Food stamp debit cards stop working in many states

Temporary shutdown during routine tests leaves some residents in Ohio, Michigan and 15 other states unable to get groceries.
Associated Press
Oct 12, 2013

People in Ohio, Michigan and 15 other states found themselves unable to use their food stamp debit-style cards on Saturday, after a routine check by vendor Xerox Corp. resulted in a system failure.

The electronic benefits system experienced a temporary shutdown during a routine test of Xerox back-up systems, company spokeswoman Jennifer Wasmer said Saturday.

"While the system is now up and running, beneficiaries in the 17 affected states continue to experience connectivity issues to access their benefits. Technical staff is addressing the issue and expect the system to be restored soon," Wasmer said in an emailed statement. "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."

U.S. Department of Agriculture spokeswoman Courtney Rowe underscored that the outage is not related to the government shutdown.

Shoppers left carts of groceries behind at a packed Market Basket grocery store in Biddeford, Maine, because they couldn't get their benefits, said fellow shopper Barbara Colman, of Saco, Maine. The manager put up a sign saying the EBT system was not in use. Colman, who receives the benefits, called an 800 telephone line for the program and it said the system was down due to maintenance, she said.

"That's a problem. There's a lot of families who are not going to be able to feed children because the system is being maintenanced," Colman said. "No one should put maintenance in during the daytime."

She planned to reach out to local officials.

"I'm trying to reach out to everybody because I'm not thinking of me an adult who can figure out things. I'm thinking of the simpler person in the world who is sitting there trying to just do basic shopping to feed their kids. You don't want children going hungry tonight because of stupidity," she said.

Colman said the store manager promised her that he would honor the day's store flyer discounts next week.

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, however he said that 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.

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.

"It really is a bad situation but they are working to get it fixed as soon as possible," Smith said. "We hope it will be back up later today."

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 because they couldn't afford to pay for the food. 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 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.



Good. Keep the system down. Bunch of lazy losers. Get a job.


I was going to come on here and say how sad it is that many of you feel the way you do with helping one another. And then I saw the video that Dr. Information posted. I have to say, this is just as sad. It's disgusting how the minority have pinned the honest hard working people in a corner and made the majority view everyone who receives any type of benefit in the same class as people like that woman with 15 kids. However, I am still of the same opinion that one life is no more important than another. This includes basic needs such as food and healthcare. I don't know how we solve this issue but it certainly isn't by bunching everyone in the same category. At one time, I was one of these people who needed a little help while I got on my feet and I'm grateful. There should be rules in place that anyone receiving assistance should be forced to not only find work, but to also get an education so they can become self sustaining. And, I was just talking to someone about this last night, after so many children they should be sterilized. Hey, if the government can force us to purchase things, why can't they tell us how many children we can have if we're getting government assistance right?

The Hero Zone's picture
The Hero Zone

I can't agree to forced sterilization, but I think that "incentivized sterilization" could be worth discussing. I know I would love to have others' input on the idea from all realms. That way it becomes a personal choice based on responsibility. The individual could consult with doctors, faith leaders, their friends, family, or significant others to see if it is right for them to do. Or not. But it is a conscious decision that would be made prior to its enactment. It completely preempts the fluster over Plan B, abortion, and condom giveaways and would, I believe, "save" more money in the long run by providing a tangible incentive to be responsible. But again, that is a discussion worth having.


Ok maybe forced sterilization is pushing it. Would never happen anyway. But I do believ education should be a requirement. I mean that's where it all begins right? Do you think that woman would have 15 babies and demanding "someone has to be held accountable" if she were educated? I think not.

The Hero Zone's picture
The Hero Zone

Education is the great equalizer that spans all disparities and divisions that keep us apart as human beings. Education should be our number one goal and greatest use of public money.


My kids went to private schools. That said I support public schools... to a point. I liked the fact that public schools are forced to accept the kids who don't wish to be in school and allowed my kids to be in a place where the kids WANTED to learn, were EXPECTED to learn, were not allowed to disrupt those who wanted to learn. When I was in public school they seperated those who wished to not be there, couldn't keep up, wanted to and did disrupt others. Now the public schools can't do that and must include all in each class no matter what. There was no mainstreaming kids. Sorry but that worked for the vast majority of kids. Did it hurt some kids... definitely. I would think that there would be some way to make that way work better... better than mainstreaming all kids through the present system. But that way was scrapped and mainstreaming has failed more kids than the old way... or so it seems.


Hero, absolutely! Grumpy, I could not agree more. The school system is as messed up as everything else. You have good, intelligent kids who are not getting the attention they need or deserve because the other kids are dragging down the classroom. With our current system in place, the ignorant parents of these kids simply yell some kind of discrimination or "My Johnny is being mistreated," when in all actuality these kids and parents are the problem. No one is held accountable for their own actions. This begins with the parents but when parents refuse to take responsibility, well... Ignorance breeds ignorance. Thankfully my child is now in an environment with other children who are on the same page in higher learning classes. And this is in a public school no less. Too bad they don't offer the same options in public elementary schools. Other states have successfully done this through Magnet schools. It all starts with education. I say, yes, let us help the less fortunate. BUT they should be required to get a GED, go back to school and graduate with a diploma and learn a trade, or go to college. Allow them to become contributing members of society and teach their children the same. The answers are so simply really...


She had the 16th six months after that report was posted so she was already pregnant when they did that news story.


Kottage Kat I grew up around wealthy families & recall events similar to what you stated about yourself. Most of those "types" are the biggest losers. Most imo are going 2hell


That explains a lot. Easy to do what you said before "read between the lines".

Kottage Kat

Sorry, using phone lower case didn't work.
Please see my earlier post. When I was able I used to give food to food bank. I am blessed, I am frugal and have learned to be content in all circumstances. While you mock me because I live in a manufactured home. Please note you can drop off your food donations to me anytime, I am always home.
Not sure with you if you are being supportive or sarcastic as your remarks to me have been caustic in the past
I appreciate your right to comment.

Kottage Kat

Thank you so much for the offer of food. I am doing OK. Blessed with good friends, I coupon with a vengeance and have canned and frozen
Lots of folks with gardens who bless me from their abundance.
So many ways to make ends meet.
I make everything from scratch, no process foods, for health reasons.
Again I tnank you. God Bless


good maybe they should get jobs


One thing for sure if it wasn't for abortion, there 'd be millions and millions more overpopulation out there. More people to feed. That's why it's a choice.

Abortion has been around for centuries in one form or another, way before the Christian bible was written.

Surprise, not everyone believes in that work of fiction.

BULLISDEEP's picture

Who cares ,the money machine is turned back on today .

The New World Czar

Given time and the advocate-in-chief would proclaim "I will not sleep until this food stamp shutdown is resolved!".

Why wouldn't he? Because...

The Big Dog's back

No, more like the trailer trash Repub base.


My hard working $ goes to them buying JUNK food. Cart loads of high end meat, while I'm buying bologna! There should be only certain things they can use their BET card for, the way they do it with WIC. The other day in line one broad bought $67.00 worth of Halloween candy. Really? I also think they should have been made to put their crap they couldn't "buy" BACK ON THE SHELF instead of "leaving full cartloads" i.e, When they can't get it for free, they could care less if meat, frozen food or dairy products sit in a cart and spoil. Now excuse me while I go catch a fish with my fangs.

BULLISDEEP's picture



Thanks for the link.

Govt. transfer of payment programs are essentially protection money.

But a foretaste of when the $ REALLY runs out.


Never mocked you kat, remember it was you who thought I was cursing? (German language) Have seen and have been part of some misery hence my discourse is terse with many. (USMC) Frankly most feel entitled. They aren't. Good luck to you - where do you live in Norwalk? If you've got a need I'll drop off some frozen meat.


Maybe if the cards stop working the owners will. All the food stamp program, with 46 million participants does, is incentivize people not to work and vote for frauds like Obama. Name two things that he has done? Now he is looking for a way to keep our troops in Afghanistan which he promised to remove by mid 2014. He promised he would clean up the economy in his first term, not even close to that promise. He promised in a speech he made in one of his infrequent visits to the senate as a senator, the raising the debt limit was bad, what happened to that one? Now he refuses to negotiate. He should remember he is president not king. Keep those cards turned off for all people who weigh or 250 pounds.


The fraud and waste rate in the SNAP program is less than 1 percent. If anyone is “dependent,” it is corporations that pay so little their employees have to come to the taxpayers for help buying food for their families. Republicans are picking on the poorest citizens, lying and smearing them as lazy druggies and blaming them for the high unemployment by saying that $133 a month is keeping them from bothering to look for a job. Why do we put up with this?


Re: "The fraud and waste rate in the SNAP program is less than 1 percent."

Got a "reliable" source to confirm that figure?

My usual rule-of-thumb for any govt. program is to factor in 10-20% for waste, fraud and abuse.

At $75B that would clock in at $7.5B or $15B.

To "combat" waste, fraud and abuse, Govt. entitlement programs practice what is known as "pay and chase."

A private co. would go bankrupt using such inefficient methods.

But what the heck, it's ONLY taxpayer money.


You are obviously eating too much cat food and it has affected your brain. You make a comment of less than one percent fraud in the SNAP. On what basis? The liberal based Atlantic magazine did an independent study which concluded that at a minimum the amount of inappropriate or fraudulent payments was more than 10@ of the payout, close to a billion dollars. Do your homework before you pop off like an expert. You should engage your brain before your keyboard. Of course if you like your taxes being wasted, just go ahead voting for the free stuff because it will sap you dry.


You would eat your proverbial hat if you knew what I did for a living, fool. So, before you "pop off like an expert" I would suggest YOU engage your brain before your keyboard. The statistics are correct.


Wrong as wrong can be. Who cares what you do for a living, if you are as inaccurate in your work as your erroneous statement, you should dismissed. Maybe I can help that happen.


I'm guessing you work for the government, and are parroting their party line on how wonderful their program is. I'm sure there's some tortured definition of fraud and waste for which that statement is true, such as incidents of fraud for which people are actually prosecuted.


There are a number of members of Congress who feel the need to punish the poor on food stamps while receiving farm subsidies. Rep. Vicki Hartzler (R-MO)Hartzler has received $516,000 in farm subsidies. Kristi Noem (R-SD) has received $503,000 in farm subsidies. And Rep. Doug Lamalfa (R-CA) said that churches are more “accountable” at helping the poor than government. He said government has “failed” at helping the poor, so we should “retract” the program. (Lamalfa has received more than $1.7 million in farm subsidies.)


Biased post. How about those Dems?