Electronic food stamp system down across nation

Food stamp recipients in Georgia and many other states were forced to walk away from their grocery carts Saturday when the electronic payment system connected to their benefits failed during a routine test.

Called Electronic Benefits Transfer, the system allows people to spend their welfare benefits with payment cards.

About 1.9 million Georgians were receiving such benefits through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program as of June, according to the Food Research and Action Center, a Washington-based nonprofit group focused on eliminating hunger.

The Connecticut-based vendor that works with the EBT program – Xerox — issued a statement Saturday, saying the system suffered a “temporary shutdown” during a test. Xerox added that technical staff was addressing the issue and that the system was expected to be restored soon, though it did not say when.

“We are working as quickly as humanly possible to get it back up,” said Xerox spokeswoman Karen Arena.

Xerox said EBT card systems in 17 states were affected. Among them are Alabama, Maine, Michigan, Ohio, Oklahoma and Virginia, according to news reports.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture also released a statement Saturday, saying the outage was not related to the federal government shutdown.

Sheryl Sumlin, 50, of Union City, said she has been checking the system daily for an approval for EBT benefits. She applied two weeks ago for emergency assistance. But when she checked Saturday, the system said it could not process her request. She is unemployed and has a 10-year-old disableddaughter.

“It’s disappointing and frustrating and one more hurdle to jump over in order to provide for my daughter and myself,” she said.

Georgia was notified early Saturday that the system was down, said Ann Carter, director of the Office of Family Independence for Georgia’s Division of Family and Children Services. Carter said there was no estimate yet on how long before the problem would be fixed.

Xerox has said it will guarantee up to a $40 meal voucher for people during the outage, said Susan Boatwright, a spokeswoman for DFCS. Store owners can handle that transaction manually, she said.

Kroger and Publix officials both reported EBT outages Saturday.

“It is not just Kroger,” said Kroger spokesman Glynn Jenkins. “In metro Atlanta, it doesn’t matter what retailer you are – the system is down.”

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