U.S. power outage shuts down food stamp program in 17 states


By Sharon Bernstein

SACRAMENTO, Calif., Oct 12 (Reuters) - Food stamp recipientsin 17 states lost access to the electronic system used by storesto verify their benefits on Saturday, leaving many unable to buygroceries, the company that manages the system said.

People enrolled in the government food assistance programuse plastic vouchers similar to debit cards. Starting at about11 a.m. EDT (1500 GMT), some of those cards stopped working,Xerox spokesman Kevin Lightfoot said.

A power outage that started the problem was fixed within 20minutes, Lightfoot said, but shoppers continued to run intodifficulties throughout the day. By early evening, the problemstill had not been fixed.

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 the aislebecause we couldn't give them a timetable," said a store managerwho asked not to be identified. "It's been an all-day thing."

The glitch was unrelated to the partial federal governmentshutdown that began on Oct. 1, Lightfoot said, adding that itwas not unclear how many beneficiaries were affected.

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

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 included 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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