Much of the nation's grocery shoppers Saturday experienced panic at the checkout lanes, as they attempted to pay for their purchases with EBT and were declined. Xerox, the company who runs the system that empowers retailers to accept EBT cards for such funds as SNAP (formerly called food stamps), experienced a malfunction earlier in the day, that caused EBT card holders to be unable to use those funds. According to reports, the system was down for a total of around ten hours.
During the first few hours of the chaos, social media was alight with Tweets and status postings regarding the incidents taking place all across the country. Most consumers were under the mistaken impression that the situation was related to the current government shutdown. This, however, was not the case.
The initial statement released by Xerox informed the public:
"During a routine test of our back-up systems Saturday morning, Xerox's Electronic Benefits Transfer (EBT) system experienced a temporary shutdown. While the system is now up and running, beneficiaries in the 17 affected states continue to experience connectivity issues to access their benefits. This disruption impacts EBT beneficiaries who rely on the system for SNAP and WIC. Technical staff is addressing the issue and expect the system to be restored soon. Beneficiaries requiring access to their benefits can work with their local retailers who can activate an emergency voucher system where available. We appreciate our clients' patience while we work through this outage as quickly as possible."
Typically, when the EBT cards are experiencing difficulties, retailers can call a backup phone number to find out how much money customers have available in their account. Unfortunately, that information also was unavailable Saturday because of the outage, so customers weren't able to use their cards, even using the stores' manual system.
According to the Mississippi Department of Human Services website, their state's EBT cards have Interactive Voice Response (IVR) Support, which states that, "Xerox provides support to both the retail and client communities. Live support is available 24 hours per day, 7 days a week." That statement did not manage to prove true during Saturday's events. Consumers attempting to call the help lines were directed to automated recordings that informed them that their information was not able to be retrieved at this time.
Xerox released the following statement around 10:30 p.m.:
"Beneficiary access to programs such as SNAP, TANF, and other programs has been restored to the 17 States where Xerox provides EBT service. Re-starting the EBT system required time to ensure service was back at full functionality. Beneficiaries who required immediate access to their benefits could work with their local merchants who could activate an emergency voucher process where available. We appreciate our clients’ patience while we resolved this issue and apologize for any inconvenience. We realize that access to these benefits is important to families in the states we serve. We continue to investigate the cause of the issue so we can take steps to ensure a similar interruption does not re-occur."
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