BATON ROUGE, La. - Saying there is no tolerance for fraud in the EBT program, Louisiana Department of Children and Family Services Secretary Suzy Sonnier said Wednesday that her department is seeking approval to sanction card users who tried to purchase food over their allotted amount during a recent computer outage.
Sonnier issued a response to a letter from Sen. David Vitter who was requesting that something be done to customers who had 'stolen' food during the outage.
On Oct. 14, a computer failure at Xerox, the company that manages the EBT card purchases, took down the electronic food stamp system for several hours in 17 states, including Louisiana.
Reports documented the stores' shelves being cleared at two Walmart locations that didn't institute the normal $50 limit in such situations. With no limit on the cards showing, people with the cards could purchase hundreds of dollars of food.
Sonnier said in a statement that her department is asking the USDA for the right to sanction those who broke the law, saying that Louisiana's SNAP program allows for a 12-month sanction from the program for a first offense, a 24-month suspension for a second offense and a permanent disqualification for a third offense.
"DCFS has no tolerance for fraud or abuse of the SNAP program and works aggressively every day, using the latest technology, to hold people accountable. No unauthorized taxpayer dollars were used in Louisiana during the multi-state Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) EBT transaction outage."
Weeks after a glitch allowed food stamp recipients to make unlimited purchases of groceries at stores, including two Walmarts in northern Louisiana, Sen. David Vitter went public with a call for the prosecution of the EBT card holders who misused the funds.
“The outrageous theft and fraud at several Louisiana retailers, including at the Walmart stores in Mansfield and Springhill, is completely unacceptable,” Vitter said. “Like many citizens, I am appalled and believe there should be serious consequences for what occurred; so far, I have heard of none.”
In Mansfield and Springhill at two Walmarts, shelves were cleared during the outage as some shoppers spent beyond their EBT limits. Scenes of shopping carts piled high with items were captured on video and spread on the Internet and newscasts around the country. The carts, full of items, were later abandoned in some stores once balances were restored.
Vitter asked Louisiana Attorney General Buddy Caldwell and Secretary of Department of Children and Family Services Suzy Sonnier to aggressively to pursue the fraud.
Sonnier said her department is efforting to do just that.
Among his recommendations, Vitter wants to make sure that the retailers who didn't follow proper protocol are not reimbursed. Sonnier said that was being done.
During an emergency, according to DCFS, retailers are required to call the vendor Xerox Corp. for authorization on transactions up to $50 in purchases per card holder.
Vitter wants to "(d)isqualify any EBT beneficiary who knowingly stole groceries during the outage," and "(w)ork to set up a local task force to pursue prosecutions of the theft and fraud cases."
"Food Stamps have more than doubled in cost since 2008 and continue to grow in an unsustainable way, and the events in Louisiana unfortunately highlight the fraud surrounding the taxpayer- funded program. I believe there should be serious consequences for what occurred," Vitter wrote to Caldwell in a letter.