Foodstamp Turmoil: EBT System Crashes in 17 States.

Food Stamp debit card users across the nation discovered earlier today that their EBT debit cards were not registering at stores. Apparently, a glitch during routine maintenance of the central servers by Xerox Co. caused most of the system to crash, leaving millions of food stamp shoppers unable to purchase groceries or other important supplies.

As ABC reports:

People in Ohio, Michigan and 15 other states found themselves unable to use their food stamp debit-style cards on Saturday, after a routine test of backup systems by vendor Xerox Corp. resulted in a system failure.

Ohio’s cash and food assistance card payment systems went down at 11 a.m., said Benjamin Johnson, a spokesman for the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services. Ohio’s cash system has been fixed, but he said that its electronic benefits transfer card system is still down. Johnson said Xerox is notifying retailers to revert to the manual system, meaning customers can spend up to $50 until the system is back online.

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.

This issue caused a great deal of unhappiness for a large number of people. As seen on Twitter:


Xerox’s official statement on the matter:

During a routine test of our back-up systems Saturday morning, Xerox’s Electronic Benefits Transfer (EBT) system experienced a temporary shutdown. While the system is now up and running, beneficiaries in the 17 affected states continue to experience connectivity issues to access their benefits. This disruption impacts EBT beneficiaries who rely on the system for SNAP and WIC. Technical staff is addressing the issue and expect the system to be restored soon. Beneficiaries requiring access to their benefits can work with their local retailers who can activate an emergency voucher system where available. We appreciate our clients’ patience while we work through this outage as quickly as possible.

This is a foreshadowing of a possible worst-case scenario: The national systems that process electronic payments go down, and food trucks stop rolling into the cities. As we can see, it is relatively easy for a single glitch to throw an entire class of consumers into disarray. It is conceivable that a weaponized electromagnetic pulse could bring down the nationwide networks that process payments of all types. If this happened, nearly all commerce would grind to a halt. Food trucks would probably stop rolling into cities. At that point, being in the city (especially the inner-cities) would be a bad idea.

The above scenario is not likely. A terrorist group would do something like this, but it is very unlikely that they could get the resources necessary to conduct such an attack. This would only be a serious threat if we entered a state of total war with another developed power, such as China (which is highly unlikely). Overall, I do not think people should live in fear of the above scenario, but it is worth keeping in mind. If you plan to live in the city for the foreseeable future, I recommend having a contingency plan in mind.

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