Food stamp debit cards not working in many states

BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KBAK/KBFX) - Bakersfield resident Wanda Sheppard went grocery shopping Saturday afternoon at the FoodMaxx store on California and Union Avenue.

But, when she tried to pay for her groceries with her Cal Fresh food stamp debit card, she was told she could not use the card.

"That's what supplies me and my granddaughter, and that pays for food and stuff for the house," said the elderly disabled Sheppard, who is raising her 14-year-old granddaughter.

"Without it, it's going to hurt real bad," said Sheppard.

She was not alone.

Millions of families in at least 17 states, including California, found themselves unable to use their food stamp debit cards on Saturday, after a routine check by vendor Xerox Corp. resulted in a system failure. Shoppers from Maine to California had to abandon baskets of groceries because they couldn't access their benefits.

"We're trying to let them know ahead of time that the system is down, we're sorry for the inconvenience," said Lupe Aguilar, manager at the 99 Cent only store in Delano.

Ohio's cash and food assistance card payment systems went down at 11 a.m., said Benjamin Johnson, a spokesman for the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services. Ohio's cash system has been fixed, however its electronic benefits transfer card system is still down. All states that use Xerox systems are affected by the outage.

Xerox spokeswoman Karen Arena confirmed via email Saturday afternoon that some EBT systems are experiencing temporary connectivity issues. She said technical staff is addressing the issue and expects the system to be restored soon.

Many mistakenly thought the failure was due to the government shutdown. The following statement was issued by the USDA: "EBT cards in a number of states have temporarily stopped working today due to a technical issue that the vendor that serves these states is experiencing. The vendor is working to fix this issue and EBT cards will work again once it is resolved. This issue is not related to the government shutdown."

Beneficiaries requiring access to their benefits can work with their local retailers who can activate an emergency voucher system where available, according to Jennifer Wasmer with Xerox Corporation.