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'Food stamp' system fails
Connectivity issue left some shoppers unable to buy food
Signs such as this one in Martinsville went up at area grocery sellers Satuday when the system that accepts EBT cards--benefits typically known as food stamps-- failed across the country. (Bulletin photo by Mike Wray)
Sunday, October 13, 2013
By BULLETIN STAFF REPORTS -
Local grocery stores on Saturday lost business as many customers lost the ability to pay due to a failure of the electronic system in which food stamp benefits are provided.
“We had to put back numerous buggies (full) of groceries,” said Randall Stone, assistant manager of the Save-A-Lot store in Collinsville.
At Woody’s Supermarket in Ridgeway, workers had to return grocery items to shelves because customers could not afford to pay for them without their benefits.
Woody’s owner Billy Wheeler said a lot of those customers wondered how they would be able to eat.
“You see a little worry on their faces,” Wheeler said.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) now administers what once was called food stamps through Electronic Benefits Transfer (EBT) cards as part of the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP).
As of August, the latest month for which figures were available, 8,310 Henry County-Martinsville households comprising 16,958 people — almost 25 percent of the community’s total population — were in the SNAP program, Henry-Martinsville Social Services records show.
Social Services Director Tonya Verlik could not be reached for comment Saturday.
A routine test of backup systems by vendor Xerox Corp. resulted in a failure of the EBT system, The Associated Press reported.
Food Lion stores and Woody’s posted signs Saturday telling customers that the EBT system was down.
Stone said the EBT failure “dramatically” reduced business at Save-A-Lot.
Compared to most Saturdays, “very few” customers were coming into the store, he said.
“It’s just very slow today,” said Jackie Palmer, an employee at Woody’s.
An employee of the Food Lion store on Brookdale Street in Martinsville said local store employees could not discuss the problem with the media.
Christy Phillips Brown, the supermarket chain’s external communications director, told the Martinsville Bulletin that the company was working with the vendor to correct the problem. She did not have further information.
“It’s just an unfortunate situation,” Brown said.
At both Woody’s and Save-A-Lot, some EBT customers were angry about the system failure while others took it in stride, store employees said.
“I don’t know what people are going to do” if the system does not start working again soon, Wheeler said.