Food Stamp glitch causes chaos at Walmart on Saturday
Tuesday, October 15, 2013 6:40 AM
No arrests were made following a Saturday night issue with electronic food stamp cards or EBT cards at Walmart, which caused the discount center to close for a short time, the authorities said.
Police officers were called to Walmart by the store management after EBT cards stopped working and a large crowd had gathered attempting to continue making purchases, Police Investigator Dan Refre said.
"They [the management] wanted to shut down the store," he said. "The Police Department helped clear the store."
"After clearing the store at 8:30 p.m. we posted an officer at each door to prevent anyone from getting inside," Refre said, noting that no arrests we made.
All officers on shift were called to the store, he said.
The store reopened at 11 p.m., Kayla Whaling, a spokesperson for Walmart said.
"The issue was resolved and the stores are now handling EBT purchases again," she said. "The Philadelphia incident is being investigated. The store was closed for the safety of customers and employees."
The issue started when computer problems caused electronic payments for EBT cards to fail.
Mississippi Department of Human Services director Rickey Berry said Xerox handles the electronic payments for 17 states, including Mississippi. The company had computer problems for several hours Saturday, but those were being fixed, Berry told The Associated Press.
He said the problems are not because of a partial shutdown of the federal government.
Despite the system being down, many customers at the Philadelphia store attempted to continue purchasing, possibly over reported rumors of unrestricted purchases.
Once they realized they couldn't buy anything they abandoned their buggies in front of the registers, many said.
A photo sent to The Neshoba Democrat of the incident show over a dozen fully-loaded carts left at the entrance clogging the hallway.
Another photo shows a line of customers waiting to check out, each with a fully-loaded cart. A constable and Sheriff's deputy can be seen in the background observing to line.
One shopper in the store at the time said "it was packed."
The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, informally known as food stamps, provides aid for low-income people. Recipients use electronic-benefit transfer cards similar to debit cards.
Mississippi is one of the poorest states in the nation, and DHS says about 600,000 residents receive food stamps. That's in a population of nearly 3 million.
U.S. Rep. Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., said his office received complaints about the cards being rejected in several Mississippi counties, in his Delta district and beyond. He said he was contacting federal and state agencies about the situation.
Berry acknowledged Saturday is a big grocery shopping day. He said DHS employees worked several hours to try to resolve the situation.
"I know there are a lot of mad people," Berry said.