By Sharon Bernstein
SACRAMENTO, Calif. Oct 12 A brief power outage
caused food stamp recipients in 17 states to lose access for
much of Saturday to the electronic system
used by stores to verify their benefits, leaving many unable to
buy groceries, the company that manages the system said.
The power outage that started the problem was fixed within
20 minutes, Xerox Corp spokesman Kevin Lightfoot said,
but shoppers kept running into difficulties through the day.
People enrolled in the government food assistance program
use plastic vouchers similar to debit cards. Starting at about
11 a.m. EDT, some of those cards stopped working, Lightfoot
Shortly before 10 p.m. EDT, the company said access was
restored, and promised to work to improve its system so that
similar events do not occur.
"We realize that access to these benefits is important to
families in the states we serve," the company said in a
statement provided by Lightfoot. "We continue to investigate the
cause of the issue so we can take steps to ensure a similar
interruption does not re-occur."
The glitch was unrelated to the partial federal government
shutdown that began on Oct. 1, Lightfoot said, adding it was
unclear how many beneficiaries were affected.
The breakdown involved the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance
Program and the Women, Infants and Children program.
Edlyn Bautista, assistant manager at the Food Basics
supermarket in Belleville, New Jersey, said many customers
abandoned their groceries in frustration.
"A lot of carts were left behind," Bautista said. "The store
At the Pathmark grocery in Newark, New Jersey, workers had
to reshelve perishable items after customers walked away,
according to store officials.
"Initially, the customers were leaving carriages in the
aisle because we couldn't give them a timetable," said a store
manager who asked not to be identified. "It's been an all-day
In most states, retailers can get permission to issue
emergency paper vouchers that allow people to buy food. But some
states limit the value of those vouchers, Lightfoot said.
For example, beneficiaries in Ohio can buy no more than $50
of groceries on an emergency voucher, he said.
States experiencing problems were Alabama, California,
Georgia, Iowa, Illinois, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Maryland,
Maine, Michigan, Mississippi, New Jersey, Ohio, Oklahoma,
Pennsylvania, Texas and Virginia, Lightfoot said.