Smith said that typically when the cards aren’t working retailers can call a backup phone number to find out how much money customers have 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 angry 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.
Mississippi Department of Human Services director Rickey Berry confirmed that Xerox, the state’s EBT vendor, had had computer problems.
“I know there are a lot of mad people,” Berry said.
Sheree Powell, a spokeswoman for the Oklahoma Department of Human Services, started receiving calls around 11:30 a.m. about problems with the state’s card systems. More than 600,000 Oklahomans receive SNAP benefits, and money is dispersed to the cards on the first, fifth and 10th days of every month, so the disruption came at what is typically a high-use time for the cards.
Oklahoma also runs a separate debit card system for other state benefits like unemployment payments. Those cards can be used at ATMs to withdraw cash. Powell said Xerox administers both the EBT and debit card systems, and they both were down initially.
Powell said that some grocery store cashiers had been speculating that the federal government’s shutdown caused the problem, but state officials have been assured that that is not the case. Powell said Oklahoma’s Xerox representative told them that the problems stemmed from a power failure at a data center.