UPDATE: 10:30 PM EST, 10/12/2013
SNAP (food stamp) access had been restored for users in the 17 states affected by the outage, Xerox said in a statement.
Xerox spokeswoman Karen Arena told USA TODAY that some Electronic Benefits Transfer systems were experiencing connectivity issues after a routine test of a backup system at a location in the Midwest caused an outage at about 10 a.m. ET. The test was part of a regular maintenance schedule, Arena said.
Reports coming in from at least 17 states across the country, including Maine, Mississippi, Ohio, Georgia, California, Virginia, Alabama and Michigan, that EBT (Electronic Benefit Transfer) cards — the cards used in SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) transactions, are being declined have nothing to do with the government shutdown, claims Julia Bryan, public information officer for the Mississippi Department of Human Services.
According to Bryan, a power outage at the main data center for Xerox, which is the vendor for EBT cards in 17 states, led to equipment issues that caused the cards to be declined.
Xerox is working to resolve the issue, but no time frame has been given on when that might be.
“This has nothing to do with the federal government shutdown,” Bryan said.
A Sam’s Club member services representative said the cards would work if purchases were broken down into smaller increments worth less than $90, but one food stamps user said his card wouldn’t work for a $4 purchase.
Managers at Wal-Mart, Rouse’s, Sam’s Club and dollar stores said the system was having problems Saturday, but they weren’t sure why.
A manager at Winn Dixie in Biloxi said their system was experiencing no problems. The same could be said for the Winn Dixie in Hattiesburg.
When Kimber Necaise of Carriere called the EBT benefits hotline today, she said she was upset to hear that she was unable to use her food stamp benefits card.
“I called the reference number and an automated message said that they aren’t accessible at this time,” Necaise said.
SNAP recipients in Ohio are able to use a manual system, which allows them to use up to $50 until the Xerox system is back up and running.
Ohio’s cash and food assistance card payment systems went down at 11 a.m., said Benjamin Johnson, a spokesman for the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services. Ohio’s cash system has been fixed, but, he said, its electronic benefits transfer card system is still down. Johnson said Xerox is notifying retailers to revert to the manual system, meaning SNAP customers can spend up to $50 until the system is back online. SNAP recipients should call the 800 number on the back of their card, and Xerox will guide them through the purchase process.
In the mean time, the Herald reports that long lines of deserted shopping carts stood in checkout lines at grocery stores around the state.
As shoppers walked away wondering how to feed their children, shopper Kiera Luke said the experience has been an eye-opener.
“This was kind of a rude awakening.”