SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program), benefits, formerly known as food stamps, were restored on October 12 after the main Xerox data center that processes EBT (Electronic Benefit Transfer) transactions suffered a temporary power outage that caused the cards of recipients across 17 states to be declined.
What happened next has Walmart, Xerox and the state of Louisiana in a bit of a conundrum.
Walmart customers in the small Louisiana towns of Springhill and Mansfield stormed the store’s aisles after another glitch in the newly restored system removed the limits from their EBT cards, enabling them to shop with no financial restrictions, reports MSN News.
“Some people had eight or 10 shopping carts full of groceries,” Springhill Police Chief Will Lynd said on Monday.
As previously reported by NewsOne, reports came in from at least 17 states across the country, including Maine, Louisiana, Mississippi, Ohio, Georgia, California, Virginia, Alabama and Michigan, that EBT transactions were being declined. Xerox spokeswoman Karen Arena told USA TODAY that “connectivity issues” were being experienced due to a routine test of a backup system at a location in the Midwest. The test was part of a regular maintenance schedule, Arena said.
As speculation that the loss of SNAP benefits were because of the GOP government shutdown, Julia Bryan, public information officer for the Mississippi Department of Human Services, sought to calm the mounting fears of concerned SNAP recipients.
“This has nothing to do with the federal government shutdown,” Bryan said.
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Kayla Whiting, a spokeswoman at Wal-Mart’s Bentonville, Arkansas, headquarters, pointed to Xerox as the source of the problem and referred further questions to Xerox.
Xerox corporate spokesman Bill McKee provided a written company statement saying that Xerox has a “documented process for retailers like Wal-Mart to follow in response to EBT outages.”
But the statement left unclear who would cover the unauthorized spending, and it referred further questions to Wal-Mart.
Louisiana officials said they had no intention of being left holding the bag. “The outage was the result of failures by our contractor, Xerox,” said Trey Williams, a spokesman for the Louisiana Department of Children and Family Services.
He said emergency procedures in place with Xerox allow retailers to call a phone number and receive authorization for purchases any time the EBT system is down. “Some retailers chose not to follow the process,” he said. “Those businesses are only being reimbursed for the (maximum) amounts on individual cards,” he said.
The unexpected shopping spree lasted approximately two hours — from 7:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m. — and when it was announced that the issue had been corrected and the cards were reflecting the correct spending limits, customers exited the store as quickly as they came.
“When they heard the announcement, people just left their carts in place and walked out of the store,” Lynd said.
Walmart allegedly made the decision to allow the customers to keep shopping, undoubtedly expecting anyone other than them to absorb the loss, but they were in for a rude awakening.
EBT transactions above the cards’ available balances were returned to Walmart marked “as insufficient funds,” said Williams, as the state of Louisiana distances itself from the situation.
“That’s a conversation between Xerox and the retailer,” he said.