This is the kind of error that gives federal programs a bad name.
As much as 18 percent of the emergency food aid handed out in New Jersey after Tropical Storm Irene hit us last year went to people who were not eligible for it.
That means nearly one in five households that got extra food assistance didn't deserve it.
Officials say the high ineligibility rate resulted from a combination of confusion, mistakes and deliberate fraud.
The state Human Services Department found the errors when it reviewed 281 randomly chosen households that received aid. Throughout the state, 111,000 households received emergency food aid after Irene.
Apparently in some areas that were not hard hit by Irene, word got out that additional food stamps were available, and people rushed to apply.
And county social service agencies, which were administering the emergency program for the first time, were overwhelmed and undertrained.
Although the Disaster Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program has been in existence for nearly 40 years, it had never been used in New Jersey before. Problems were compounded because the disaster was so widespread. Irene caused damage throughout the state.
Obviously we need to do a better job the next time disaster aid is given out.
The Human Services report suggests that better training and clearer application forms could cut down on problems in the future.
Still, it's hard to get too upset about the fact that some people who lived outside of disaster areas got a couple of free meals. On average, households already receiving food stamps got an extra $171. People who were not already receiving benefits got an average of $559.
Although efforts are under way to get people in the study group to repay the cost of benefits they incorrectly received, they represent a small fraction of all those who received additional benefits.
Widespread emergencies - such as the violent June 30 wind storm that knocked down trees and shut down power in much of Atlantic and Cumberland counties - can bring out the best in people. Sometimes, they can also bring out the worst.
New Jersey saw that after Irene, when unscrupulous contractors - or con men posing as contractors - took advantage of desperate homeowners. Apparently, a certain number of people will also try to obtain benefits they are not eligible for.
Again, the counties must do a better job next time. But if you are going to make a mistake after a disaster, it's better to err on the side of feeding people.