Two Wal-Mart stores in Louisiana saw a stampede that resulted in a shelf-clearing rush Saturday after a computer glitch for food stamp recipients let benefit cards allow unlimited purchases for customers. Police had to be called because entire shelves were cleaned out. The problem was resolved when the low-income residents who were using the cards were prohibited from making those unlimited purchases after the computer glitch was fixed.
Springhill Police Chief Will Lynd confirmed to MSN and other media outlets that law enforcement had to be called to help Wal-Mart employees due to the stampede of people emptying shelves. He described the chaos as worse than any black Friday mob he had encountered.
The police chief told reporters that the cards did not show limits, so local Wal-Mart employees called corporate for direction regarding the problem. The corporate spokesman allegedly told the store employees to allow purchases with the cards regardless of the limit issue. The cards did not show limits from 7 to 9 p.m., and during those two hours, customers were literally overfilling carts.
After the system started working again and cards once again started showing limits at about 9, it was announced over the store’s intercom. Authorities and Wal-Mart employees did detain one woman after the cards started working properly because she had the cashier ring up groceries totaling $700 while she only had .49 worth of benefits left on her card. Wal-Mart’s corporate office said not to press charges against her if she left the groceries behind. After the cards started working again, people left carts full of food in the aisles and departed the store.
Wal-Mart and Xerox are blaming each other for the fiasco. Xerox Systems processes the EBT card transactions. Those systems suffered an outage after a malfunction during the regular testing of backup generators. Seventeen states were impacted by that systems outage.
In a written statement on behalf of the company that was provided to the media, Xerox corporate spokesman Bill McKee said that Xerox does have “a documented process for retailers like Wal-Mart to follow in response to EBT outages.” No one has said who will be responsible for the excessive spending, which was unauthorized. McKee directed those questions to Wal-Mart.
In some states, people couldn’t use their food stamp benefits because of an error in a new system update. A significant number of Americans now receive food stamps as the economy has struggled the last few years. The high level of unemployment and people getting jobs that pay significantly less are being blamed for the increased spending by the government on food stamp benefits. Food stamp spending has doubled since the program started and it is expected to cost the U.S. more than $760 billion over the next 10-year period. It has been reported the federal government finances more than $80 billion each year financing food stamps.