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Posts Tagged ‘Run on Walmart’

With the headlines in Washington being consumed by the government shutdown and the impending debt-ceiling catastrophe, many of us may not have noticed another headline.

The national Electronics Benefits Transfer (EBT) system is the technology that replaced food stamps. EBT is used to disburse Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).

SNAPHere is the government’s website, which is shut down right now.

Vulnerable households on low incomes can apply for SNAP benefits. These benefits are designed to help people afford nutritious food, while their financial situation stabilizes. More commonly known as food stamps, SNAP is responsive to changes in need, therefore people who fall into a pit of economic adversity can get financial relief quickly.

In 2010, the average person using SNAP was receiving $133.79 per month and the average household was receiving $289.61 per month. Approximately 76 percent of households using the SNAP program comprised a child, elderly or disabled person. Eligibility for the program is dependent on gross income and the rules require participants to be at, or below, 130 percent of the Federal Poverty Level.

The SNAP program is administered by the state governments, which issue EBT cards that look and work like debit cards. The government deposits money on the card, and the user can then go shopping with it. Retailers accept the card like a debit card, and run it through special swipe card machines that track the purchases. The machines are installed everywhere where retailers sell eligible goods – mostly groceries, of course.

There are only a few major contractors that implement the EBT system to provide benefits. One of those contractors is Xerox. A few days ago, Xerox apparently performed a routine system backup, and the backup was interrupted by a power-outage. We will never know the real details, but I can assure you, being a hosted systems software vendor myself, this is a systems company’s worst nightmare.

The EBT systems in some 15 states went down and the cards didn’t work. The problem was corrected within hours, as states came back online. During the shutdown, however, there were plenty of people complaining, on the media, about “how am I supposed to feed my family…?” It is mindboggling to think that people have the nerve to complain that they were somehow wronged when a system that keeps feeding them with free money shuts down for a few hours – planned or not.

Then, news in Louisiana spread that there was no limit on the EBT cards. This was another glitch resulting from the earlier systems failure and its gradual recovery. People literally stormed Walmart. Retailers reported that Walmart was busier than they had ever seen, even worse than any Black Friday. It’s amazing to me how quickly the news spread.

People with just 49 cents of legitimate funds left on their cards came in and filled up grocery carts with $700 of food and rushed to the checkout stands. Walmart continued to process purchases. Eventually, however, all the shelves were empty. The meat coolers were empty. All the goods in Walmart were in shopping carts with frantic “shoppers” trying to get away with the loot.

Then reality struck. The card limits came back online. Walmart announced over the PA system that limits were back. With no money, people simply abandoned their shopping carts in the isles and left the store.

Grocery stores cannot restock perishables. All the perishable food, all meat, dairy, fruit and vegetables cannot be restocked and had to be dumped. The restocking of non-perishable goods is an enormous task. Just picture a Walmart with all the shelves empty.

What bothers and amazes me is that we have people on welfare, who really think that when the card limits temporarily disappear because of a computer glitch, they are entitled to steal food while the stealing is possible, and do so with brazen openness. It’s like looting in a natural disaster. Those goods behind a broken shopping window, just because the window is no longer there, are open for grabs by all.

Stories like this make me feel ashamed for my countrymen.

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