Food stamp program problem left shoppers frustrated
A system failure with a food stamp debit-style card program left shoppers in the Mahoning Valley, as well as throughout Ohio and in 16 other states, frustrated.
“We had a bunch of people who tried to use it and it didn’t work,” said Sandra Sterchi, who works at the customer service center at the Giant Eagle in Liberty. “Everyone’s been calling and complaining.”
A routine test of backup systems by the Xerox Corp., the cards’ vendor, resulted in the cards not working at stores Saturday.
There were some angry customers at Walmart in Boardman who left behind shopping carts full of items, according to an employee there.
“While the electronic benefits system is now up and running, beneficiaries in the 17 affected states continue to experience connectivity issues to access their benefits. Technical staff is addressing the issue and expect the system to be restored soon,” Xerox spokeswoman Jennifer Wasmer said in an emailed statement Saturday. “Beneficiaries requiring access to their benefits can work with their local retailers who can activate an emergency voucher system where available.”
Ohio’s cash and food assistance card payment systems went down at 11 a.m. Saturday, said Benjamin Johnson, a spokesman for the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services.
Ohio’s cash system was fixed, but he said that its electronic benefits transfer card system is still down. Johnson said Xerox is notifying retailers to revert to the manual system, meaning customers can spend up to $50 until the system is back online. Recipients of the state’s supplemental nutrition assistance program, or SNAP, should call the 800 number on the back of their card, and Xerox will guide them through the purchase process.
U.S. Department of Agriculture spokeswoman Courtney Rowe underscored that the outage is not related to the government shutdown.
Shoppers left carts of groceries behind at a packed Market Basket grocery store in Biddeford, Maine, because they couldn’t get their benefits, said fellow shopper Barbara Colman, of Saco, Maine. The manager put up a sign saying the system was not in use. Colman, who receives the benefits, called an 800 telephone line for the program and it said the system was down due to maintenance, she said.
“That’s a problem. There are a lot of families who are not going to be able to feed children because the system is being maintenanced,” Colman said. She planned to reach out to local officials. “You don’t want children going hungry tonight because of stupidity,” she said.
Colman said the store manager promised her that he would honor the day’s store flyer discounts next week.
In Clarksdale, Miss. — one of the poorest parts of one of the poorest states in the nation — cashier Eliza Shook said dozens of customers at Corner Grocery had to put back groceries when the cards failed Saturday because they couldn’t afford to pay for the food. After several hours, she put a sign on the front door to tell people about the problem.
“It’s been terrible,” Shook said in a phone interview. “It’s just been some angry folks. That’s what a lot of folks depend on.”