Power outage shuts U.S. food stamp program for hours in 17 states


By Sharon Bernstein

SACRAMENTO, Calif., Oct 12 (Reuters) - A brief power outagecaused food stamp recipients in 17 states to lose access formuch of Saturday to the electronic system used by stores to verify their benefits, leaving many unable tobuy groceries, the company that manages the system said.

The power outage that started the problem was fixed within20 minutes, Xerox Corp spokesman Kevin Lightfoot said,but shoppers kept running into difficulties through the day.

People enrolled in the government food assistance programuse plastic vouchers similar to debit cards. Starting at about11 a.m. EDT, some of those cards stopped working, Lightfootsaid.

Shortly before 10 p.m. EDT, the company said access wasrestored, and promised to work to improve its system so thatsimilar events do not occur.

"We realize that access to these benefits is important tofamilies in the states we serve," the company said in astatement provided by Lightfoot. "We continue to investigate thecause of the issue so we can take steps to ensure a similarinterruption does not re-occur."

The glitch was unrelated to the partial federal governmentshutdown that began on Oct. 1, Lightfoot said, adding it wasunclear how many beneficiaries were affected.

The breakdown involved the Supplemental Nutrition AssistanceProgram and the Women, Infants and Children program.

Edlyn Bautista, assistant manager at the Food Basicssupermarket in Belleville, New Jersey, said many customersabandoned their groceries in frustration.

"A lot of carts were left behind," Bautista said. "The storeis empty."

At the Pathmark grocery in Newark, New Jersey, workers hadto reshelve perishable items after customers walked away,according to store officials.

"Initially, the customers were leaving carriages in theaisle because we couldn't give them a timetable," said a storemanager who asked not to be identified. "It's been an all-daything."

In most states, retailers can get permission to issueemergency paper vouchers that allow people to buy food. But somestates limit the value of those vouchers, Lightfoot said.

For example, beneficiaries in Ohio can buy no more than $50of groceries on an emergency voucher, he said.

States experiencing problems were Alabama, California,Georgia, Iowa, Illinois, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Maryland,Maine, Michigan, Mississippi, New Jersey, Ohio, Oklahoma,Pennsylvania, Texas and Virginia, Lightfoot said.

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