NEW ORLEANS, La. -- After being shut down for much of the day Saturday, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, WIC and its Food Stamp cards are back online, according to Xerox Corporation, which runs the program for Louisiana and 16 other states.
Louisiana and Mississippi were among 17 states where EBT card users were left looking for answers after a technical issue shutdown the electronic system that welfare recipients use to buy food. The state Department of Children and Family Services explained Saturday afternoon that retail services using SNAP transactions were affected.
Late Saturday night, Xerox released a statement saying service had been restored.
"Restarting the EBT system required time to ensure service was back at full functionality. Beneficiaries who required immediate access to their benefits could work with local merchants who could activate an emergency voucher process where available. We appreciate our clients' patience while we resolved this issue and apologize for any inconvenience."
"We realize that access to these benefits is important to families in the states we serve. We continue to investigate the cause of the issue so we can take steps to ensure a similar interruption does not re-occur," said the statement from Jennifer Wasmer, a Xerox spokeswoman.
D & M Discount Supermarket on Broad St. is one of the stores where customers' food stamp cards were turned turned down all day. Officials say the problem was strictly techinical, but because of the timing some customers wondered if the problem were connected to the goverment shutdown. The state and Xerox denied that.
“There have been rumors circulating that it has something to do with the government shutdown. Let me just clarify...it’s not true. It is a complete server issue,” said Heather Bond, Service area manager for Winn-Dixie.
"I have a food stamp card. It's really disappointing when you are unaware when you have to come pick something up from the store and you be surprised when you get to the checkout. My kids are at home starving,” explained Kendell Trepagnier, an EBT card user.
The system was back up and running just before 4:00 Saturday afternoon, but some people still couldn't access their benefits right away, and some businesses also took a hit as a result.
The owner of D&M Discount Supermarket said nearly 60 percent of his customers use EBT cards and at the Winn- Dixie on Carrollon things got a little bit chaotic because of the problem.
“When we started to have to turn people away with EBT cards, we had lines backing up then we had baskets of groceries more than 20 full of reshops,” explained Bond.
The system was gradually restored before coming fully back online Saturday night, but for people who depend on government assistance for food, it was a very unnerving day.
“Between paying bills with cash and other expenses we have: life insurance, car insurance, things of that nature, it is kind of hard to buy food. We need that help,” said Trepagnier.