Near riot over food stamps shuts Philadelphia Wal-Mart briefly over weekend.
Monday, October 14, 2013 7:25 AM
A near riot at the Philadelphia Wal-Mart over a glitch with the federal government's electronic food stamp cards forced the store to close briefly on Saturday night after customers became unruly, the authorities said.
A near riot at the Philadelphia Wal-Mart over a glitch with the federal government’s electronic food stamp cards forced the store to close briefly on Saturday night after customers became unruly, the authorities said.
No arrests were made following the problem with the electronic food stamp cards, known as EBT cards, the authorities said.
Philadelphia Police were called to Wal-Mart by the store management after EBT cards stopped working and a large crowd had gathered attempting to continue purchasing, said Police Investigator Dan Refre.
"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.
All officers on shift were dispatched to the store because of the seriousness of the situation, he said.
The store re-opened at 11 p.m., said Kayla Whaling, a spokesperson for Wal-Mart.
"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. In some parts of the country cards showed unrestricted purchases and shelves were emptied.
Shelves in Wal-Mart stores in Springhill and Mansfield, La., were reportedly cleared Saturday night when the stores allowed purchases on EBT cards even though they were not showing limits, KSLA reported.
In Philadelphia, once customers 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 shows more than a dozen fully-loaded carts left at the entrance.
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.