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Food-Stamp System Failure Leads to Massive Walmart Shopping Sprees

Walmart shopper
Spencer Platt/Getty Images

On Saturday, two Louisiana Walmart stores had their grocery shelves cleaned out by food-stamp recipients whose benefit cards briefly had their spending limits removed. Walmart may end up footing most of the bill because it chose not to implement emergency procedures that would have stopped all purchases at $50.

On Saturday, the Electronic Benefits Transfer system, which processes all food-stamp financing, malfunctioned due to failed backup generator. This glitch temporarily eliminated the standard spending caps for some people, while completely disabling them for others.

When word spread at the Springhill and Mansfield, Louisiana, Walmarts that EBT cards could suddenly pay for hundreds of dollars worth of merchandise and groceries, customers started an enormous shopping spree.

“It was definitely worse than Black Friday. It was worse than anything we had ever seen in this town,” said Springhill Police Chief Will Lynd. “There was no food left on any of the shelves, and no meat left. The grocery part of Walmart was totally decimated.”

People were leaving with “eight to 10 grocery carts,” Lynd added, with one person walking out with more than $700 in goods.

Police were called in to both the Springhill and Mansfield locations, but for crowd control purposes and to prevent any shoplifting. Lynd says no arrests were made and that customers were “not unruly,” a statement echoed by Mansfield Chief of Police Gary Hobbs.

At around 9 p.m. local time, the EBT system was functioning properly again, effectively ending the two-hour shopping spree. A listener of local radio station KVKI posted a video of the Mansfield Walmart after the spending limits had returned. Numerous overflowing shopping carts can be seen in the aisles, abandoned by customers once they were informed they could no longer take advantage of the EBT glitch (audio NSFW):

KVKI also reported on other area Walmarts which didn’t encounter exactly the same issue, but still had their stocks of food depleted. Customers were limited to $90 per card usage, but were allowed to make consecutive purchases, leading to empty shelves. Photos are available here.

Kayla Whaling, a Walmart spokesperson, explained the company’s decision to allow customers to continue using their benefit cards even though the limits were not working properly: ”We did make the decision to continue to accept EBT cards during the outage so that they could get food for their families.”

The Louisiana Department of Children and Family Services, which manages food-stamp benefits in the state, posted this fraud notice on its website regarding Saturday’s events:

While transactional systems maintained by DCFS contractors may have been impacted by today’s outage, the systems that DCFS uses to track EBT card usage and identify fraud were still in place. DCFS vigorously investigates all fraud claims. Anyone suspected of fraudulently using public assistance benefits are investigated and prosecuted to the full extent of the law. The public is encouraged to report cases of suspected SNAP fraud by calling the DCFS toll-free hotline at 1-888-LAHELP-U and selecting option 7 from the main menu or by visiting www.dcfs.la.gov/ReportFraud.

[KSLAKVKI, ABCKVKI]

Photo by Aaron Savage
Photo by Aaron Savage
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