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Walmart food stamps frenzy caused by printing glitch

A brief power outage of the electronic system managing food stamp cards prompted a frenzy at two Louisiana Walmart stores.
By Gabrielle Levy Follow @gabbilevy Contact the Author   |   Oct. 15, 2013 at 11:34 AM
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(UPI) -- Walmart will be on the hook for thousands of dollars of food purchased when a glitch lifted the limits on food stamp cards at two Louisiana stores.

Shoppers at Walmarts in Mansfield and Springhill, La., Saturday stripped shelves clean when a power outage allowed shoppers to pay for as many groceries as they could grab using Electronic Benefits Transfer system cards.

"I saw people drag out eight to ten grocery carts," said Springhill Police Chief Will Lynd, including one who got more than $700 worth of groceries.

While the scene was chaotic, Lynd said, police were only there for crowd control, and said shoppers never got out of hand.

The glitch occurred when the EBT system went down when a backup generator failed during a regularly scheduled test, according to Xerox, the vendor for the system. From 7 to 9 p.m. Saturday, shoppers' cards were not showing limits, allowing them to grab hundreds of dollars of food on using the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits.

But since retailers are responsible for implementing emergency procedures when the system goes down -- including imposing temporary spending limits -- Walmart, not taxpayers, will be forced to pay for everything charged beyond a shopper's balance.

"If someone only had $50.00 left on their SNAP/EBT card, but came into a store and purchased $150.00 worth of merchandise, then that retailer will only be reimbursed for that $50.00 on their card," explained Trey Williams, of the Louisiana Department of Children and Family Services.

One woman was detained when, after 9 p.m., the limits began appearing on cards again. She rang up more than $700 in groceries, but only had $0.49 on her card. She was released after corporate Walmart said they wouldn't press charges if she left the food.

Others abandoned overflowing carts in the aisles once a Walmart employee announced over the loudspeaker the limits had come back online.

But not everyone in the store joined in on the frenzy.

"The first thing I thought of was, rib eye steak tonight instead of ramen noodles, but if we would have done that, I would have felt too guilty," said one man, who asked not to be identified.

"I could have easily walked back and went slap crazy and got all sorts of stuff, but I am conscious of the fact that this isn't my money," added another.

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