The Food Stamp card problem that struck over the weekend, cutting off benefits for some users in several states, also removed spending caps for other benefit receivers in Louisiana. When some Food Stamp recipients in Mansfield and Springhill, La., realized they could spend unlimited amounts at their respective Walmart stores, they completely cleaned out the grocery shelves, decimating the stores' inventories, according to ABC News on Oct. 14.
A power outage is being blamed for this particular system snafu, which saw most Food Stamp recipients unable to even make purchases with their Electronic Benefits Transfer cards in 17 states Saturday.
Now officials are trying to figure out what to do about the shopping sprees. The Department of Agriculture administers the food stamp program, but currently has limited staff due to the government shutdown.
The shopping frenzy was triggered when the EBT system went down because a back-up generator failed Saturday morning during a scheduled test, according to Xerox, a vendor for the EBT system based in Norwalk, Conn..
Kevin Lightfoot, a spokesman for Xerox, said the power outage triggered a preventative shutdown of the entire EBT system, which is designed to protect itself in such conditions.
The power loss lasted only 22 minutes, but the network continued to experience connectivity issues until technicians were finally able to re-establish full access around 10 p.m. EST.
Meanwhile, once certain Louisiana customers realized they could spend without any limits on their cards, they went on shopping sprees. Some customers were spotted with as many as 10 shopping carts loaded with groceries.
Others even made multiple trips to the store, making one shopping run and then returning later for more. Luckily the customers remained calm and there were no reported incidents of fights or arrests.
"It was definitely worse than Black Friday. It was worse than anything we had ever seen in this town....The grocery part of Walmart was totally decimated", said Springhill Police Chief Will Lynd.
The Walmart in Mansfield, located about 80 miles south of Springhill, had to be temporarily closed to new customers because there were so many shoppers in the store that it posed a fire hazard.
Mansfield's chief of police Gary Hobbs said other grocery stores in the town wouldn't accept the EBT cards until the limits were restored, but Walmart allowed the users to make purchases.
Kayla Whaling, a spokeswoman for Walmart, stated that the frenzied shopping in portions of Louisiana were isolated incidents, and not indicative of what occurred at other affected stores throughout the country.
Trey Williams, spokesman for The Louisiana Department of Children and Family Services', said the agency will meet today to discuss how to handle the issue going forward.
Xerox said it is continuing its investigation into the weekend mishap, and will take steps to ensure it doesn't recur.