Today is Tuesday, October 29, 2013.
On the Saturday, October 12, some Walmart stores in Louisiana had a problem. The power went out for the EBT (Electronic Benefits Transfer) system at 11 a.m. during a “regularly scheduled test” by Xerox, the vendor responsible for the EBT system, and a backup generator failed to function. EBT cards may look like credit cards, but they’re not. They are what “food stamp” recipients use to buy their food using the SNAP and TANF programs. When the power failed, the normal limits in place on the cards were lifted. The power did not come on until 9 p.m.
Somehow, word got out that you could buy as much as you wanted using your EBT card, and people flocked to the store and loaded up carts. Police who were called to the scene described the sort of chaos that is seen at stores during pre-Christmas sales. Some people had eight or ten carts, piled high with food, and most of the store’s grocery shelves were totally cleaned out. One man bought $700 worth of groceries! Although there was some pushing and shoving among the shoppers, were no injuries and no fights. No arrests were made. Some people even came back later in the day to buy more groceries!
The EBT system outage affected 17 states, but the shopping frenzy was apparently limited to Louisiana. And other stores in the area either closed their doors or refused to accept EBT cards. There are rules for limits on the cards when power outages occur. People are supposed to be limited to purchases of no more than $50 per day during an emergency outage. They say that Walmart will not be compensated for more than that, per customer.
Why did Walmart choose to let the people buy as much as they wanted? They could have closed their doors, refused to accept the EBT cards, or just allowed only $50 per customer, but they didn’t. The manager of the store in Springhill called his supervisors and was told to accept the cards. Did the Walmart management think that the local store managers would limit sales to $50? Did they think people would have a better feeling about them if they let the poor people shop to their heart’s content, even though they have been repeatedly lambasted for paying their employees low wages and denying them healthcare benefits? Considering that the story didn’t seem to get much press, that might have backfired.
What I would like to know is what those people did with all that food. Did they find some friends with big enough freezers to keep all the meat they bought without spoiling? What else did they buy that needs refrigeration? Will it all get eaten, or will it go to waste? Will Walmart’s local sales in Mansfield and Springhill, Louisiana, suffer because people have enough food now for a while? That’s the problem with these human interest stories. The news media never follow up on them.