October 13, 2013

Glitch that froze food-stamp purchases fixed, Xerox says

For several hours Saturday, food stores in Maine and many other states were unable to accept the Electronic Benefits Transfer cards.

By Beth Quimby bquimby@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

(Continued from page 1)

click image to enlarge

Owners of Smaha's Legion Square Market in South Portland's Knightville put a sign on their door Saturday warning customers who use food stamp cards that they were unable to process card transactions. The problems, which occurred in 17 states where the program is operated by Xerox, was blamed on a computer glitch that was corrected later in the day.

Photos by Gordon Chibroski, Staff Photographer

click image to enlarge

According to the NBC Washington website, the EBT problem is not related to the government shutdown.

Illinois residents began reporting problems with their cards – known as LINK in that state – on Saturday morning, said Januari Smith, spokeswoman for the Illinois Department of Human Services.

Smith said that typically when the cards aren’t working retailers can call a backup phone number to find out how much money a customer has available in their account. But that information also was unavailable because of the outage, so customers weren’t able to use their cards.

In Clarksdale, Miss. – one of the poorest parts of one of the poorest states in the nation – cashier Eliza Shook said dozens of customers at Corner Grocery had to put back groceries when the cards failed Saturday. After several hours, she put a sign on the front door to tell people about the problem.

“It’s been terrible,” Shook said in a phone interview. “It’s just been some angry folks. That’s what a lot of folks depend on.”

Mississippi Department of Human Services director Rickey Berry confirmed that Xerox, the state’s EBT vendor, had computer problems. He said he had been told by midafternoon that the problems were being fixed.

“I know there are a lot of mad people,” Berry said.

Sheree Powell, a spokeswoman for the Oklahoma Department of Human Services, started receiving calls around 11:30 a.m. about problems with the state’s card systems. More than 600,000 Oklahomans receive SNAP benefits, and money is dispersed to the cards on the first, fifth and 10th days of every month, so the disruption came at what is typically a high-use time for the cards.

Oklahoma also runs a separate debit card system for other state benefits like unemployment payments. Those cards can be used at ATMs to withdraw cash. Powell said Xerox administers both the EBT and debit card systems, and they both were down initially.

Like Ohio’s Johnson, Powell said that Oklahoma’s cash debit card system has since been restored, but the EBT cards for the SNAP program were still down. Powell said Oklahoma’s Xerox representative told them that the problems stemmed from a power failure at a data center, and power had been restored quickly.

“It just takes a while to reboot these systems,” she said, adding that she did not know where the data center was located.

Powell said that some grocery store cashiers had been speculating that the federal government’s shutdown caused the problem, but state officials have been assured that is not the case.

“We are hopeful it will be up this afternoon but we were not given a specific time frame,” she said.

David Akerly, a spokesman for Michigan’s Department of Human Services, also confirmed that residents in his state have reported problems using their cards.

Staff Writer Edward D. Murphy and the Associated Press contributed to this story

Beth Quimby can be contacted at 791-6363 or at:

bquimby@pressherald.com

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