(Photo: Jay LaPrete for USA TODAY)
Staff and wire reports, USA TODAY
People in 17 states found themselves unable to buy groceries with their food stamp debit-style cards Saturday after a routine check by vendor Xerox Corp. resulted in a system failure.
Xerox announced late in the evening that access had been restored for users in the 17 states affected by the outage, hours after the first problems were reported.
"Re-starting the EBT system required time to ensure service was back at full functionality," spokeswoman Jennifer Wasmer said in an email.
Xerox spokeswoman Karen Arena said that some Electronic Benefits Transfer systems were experiencing connectivity issues after a routine test of a backup system at a location in the Midwest caused an outage at about 10 a.m. ET. The test was part of a regular maintenance schedule, Arena said.
Xerox started receiving calls soon afterward.
U.S. Department of Agriculture spokeswoman Courtney Rowe underscored that the outage was not related to the federal government shutdown. Xerox runs EBT card systems for 17 states. All were affected by the outage.
Illinois residents began reporting problems with their cards - known as LINK in that state - on Saturday morning, said Januari Smith, spokeswoman for the Illinois Department of Human Services.
Smith said that typically when the cards aren't working retailers can call a backup phone number to find out how much money a customer has available in their account. But that information also was unavailable because of the outage, so customers weren't able to use their cards.
In Clarksdale, Miss. - one of the poorest parts of one of the poorest states in the nation - cashier Eliza Shook said dozens of customers at Corner Grocery had to put back groceries when the cards failed Saturday because they couldn't afford to pay for the food. After several hours, she put a sign on the front door to tell people about the problem.
"It's been terrible," Shook said in a phone interview. "It's just been some angry folks. That's what a lot of folks depend on."
Mississippi Department of Human Services director Rickey Berry confirmed that Xerox, the state's EBT vendor, had computer problems. He said he had been told by midafternoon that the problems were being fixed.
"I know there are a lot of mad people," Berry said.
Contributing: Associated Press