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Interesting Article regarding "glitch" in food stamp system which allowed unlimited funds to recipients

So who is responsible for this? Should Walmart "cut" people off who obviously went above their spending limit, even though their debt/food stamp card was still approving items?

Should the people be charged with some form of theft of taking advantage of the system while it was down?

Is it the state's problem since they were the source of the "glitch"?

What do my fellow Chow's say?


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  1. IMO, they were nothing more than looters. Hopefully there will be a mechanism to credit what they stole against future entitlements. But somehow I doubt it will happen.

    1. Some years ago, my bank erroneously credited my account with about $10,000. I didn't go on a spending spree. And I knew they'd demand the money back even if I'd spent it. I think this is an analogous situation. The customers who knowingly went way over the value on their cards were knowingly stealing.

      As far as the stores are concerned, it looks like those with wiser management stopped using the EBT system when it became apparent that it was broken. But others didn't -- and I'm sure they'll have to swallow the losses (they could try to recoup from the customers, but I don't think they'll get very far).

      EDIT: I looked at some of the pictures from the Walmart stores that were "wiped out" and I have little sympathy for them. It would have been completely clear that many people were buying far more than the limits on the cards. A Walmart spokesperson said “We did make the decision to continue to accept EBT cards during the outage so that they could get food for their families." -- which would have been commendable if they had put in place some kind of reasonable limit.

      1. How did news spread fast enough for multiple stores to be completely wiped out?

        4 Replies
        1. re: Kontxesi

          Pretty much all food stamp recipients have texting devices.

          1. re: Veggo

            Well, yeah. But... I guess what I mean is how did they even discover it was happening to spread the word. It's not like someone loaded down with $500 of stuff and thought "I wonder if I can get away with all of this.... Oh wow, it worked!" Unless people do that....

            I guess maybe cashiers were calling their managers over about it and then talking about it in front of customers?

            I don't know. I guess I was really thinking out loud. There's a few ways it could have happened, I suppose.

            1. re: linguafood

              Folks, the 'are SNAP recipients living it up while receiving benefits' argument has very little to do with the specifics of this situation and it's a far reaching argument that's fairly far outside the scope of Chowhound. We'd ask that people not continue this conversation down this path, please. If you are going to participate in this thread, please focus on the actual situation described, and do not turn it into a referendum on whether SNAP or government assistance is a good or bad idea in general.

            2. re: Kontxesi

              Good news travels fast, FREE FOOD !!!!

            3. It isn't the state's problem. Wal-Mart will not be reimbursed for expenditures above the limits, as the article reports. That is proper. Whether the company seeks restitution from any of their customers for civil fraud is a business decision. I doubt any cases will be prosecuted as criminal fraud by the state.

              1. Walmart could have stopped it earlier and didn't.

                "The Louisiana Department of Children and Family Services' spokesman Trey Williams said the retailers who chose not to use the emergency procedures that limit sales up to $50 per cardholder during an emergency would be responsible for any additional amount spent over eligible benefit balances."


                The Home Office likely didn't understand the extent of what was going on, but either way they allowed it to happen.

                1. I think Walmart made a fundamental error in continuing to honor them. It was widely publicized that this error (btw caused by Xerox, not the gov't) caused downtime in the foodstamp program over the weekend. So most stores simply said "sorry". Walmart went ahead; they assumed the risk. I'd be happy if Walmart can find a way to get reimbursed by those who took advantage; I just don't know how practical that might be.

                  1. Had Walmart not honored the cards they would have been vilified for not helping hungry families, or something. I'm sure there are plenty more Hot Pockets where those came from.

                    1. So please pardon my ignorance on this topic, and trust me I'm very thankful to not have this knowledge, but how does this whole thing work?

                      I know several years ago they switched from actual paper food stamps, which there was a stigma attached to, to using a pre-paid debt card for benefits. So is there a weekly or monthly amount deposited into the debt card? And doesn't the amount deposited depend on how much you are qualified for? Wouldn't a family of 4 receive more assistance than a single household?

                      How would the stores know what a persons spending limit is? Do unused funds carry over week to week or month to month? I'm just wondering how the store(s) would know that the system was broken and people were exceeding their limit(s)?

                      7 Replies
                      1. re: jrvedivici

                        I don't think they could know that EVERYONE was exceeding their limits, but it was clear that MANY were exceeding their limits because the shelves were being emptied and many people had cart loads worth many hundreds of dollars (one example reported in the news was a person with $700 worth of food and a card balance of 49 cents... though sounds like a dubious anecdote to me).

                        1. re: drongo

                          I saw that and thought man, 8 shopping carts and only $700 worth of food? I'd like to think I could do that much damage with two carts tops. But I'm the guy who skips the iceberg lettuce at the salad bar and has Craisin Pepperoni salad instead.

                        2. re: jrvedivici

                          The average benefit per person in $133 and change per month. Per household average is $289. This sheet has quite a few facts:


                          This site also has good information.


                          Not all of the links are verifiable because the USDA website is offline due to the shutdown, but I've seen that $133 amount quoted quite a bit so I suspect it is accurate. In any case, looking at the picture of the shopping carts accompanying your article, I think anyone imagining that kind of shopping on any configuration of SNAP benefits is seriously out of touch with the reality of poverty and nutritional assistance in this country. I'm also fortunate enough not to have any firsthand knowledge of SNAP, but I know that's not realistic.

                          1. re: jrvedivici

                            Eligibility is based on income and family size; monthly benefit is deposited; carryover is allowed. Apparently at the end of a transaction you can see what's left on the card, so the store must normally be able to see your limit also.

                            Here's a link to TX's benefit table, Illinois' was same, and NJ also.

                            1. re: DuchessNukem

                              Yes, when you get your receipt, the balance left on your card shows up at the bottom. If you try to spend more than is on the card, it will alert the cashier and stop the transaction. You have to know EXACTLY how much is on your card and have them input that amount, and then pay the rest with cash/whatever.

                              At least that's how it works most places. I think in some stores you can just swipe it and it automatically detects how much it can take from the account.

                              1. re: Kontxesi

                                So is this a specific card you get from public assistance? Is that what a "snap" card is? I just thought you had a bank account and they just deposited into your account. Sorry I'm a bit clueless on this matter.

                                1. re: jrvedivici

                                  Yes, it is a card that they give you. If they were just depositing money into an existing bank account, I imagine it would be next to impossible to control what that money was being spent on. With the EBT debit card, the computer/register knows that you can't use it for cigarettes or pet food or whatever, and it will automatically ask for another form of payment if you have any non-allowable items in your cart.

                          2. That's a very serious "news" source you got there, too :-D

                            1 Reply
                            1. re: linguafood

                              That's where I first saw the story, however as ABC news above also reported it's legit! lol

                            2. Some people are just greedy creeps that will take advantage of a "glitch" in any system. It has nothing to do with being poor....rich people are just as susceptible to corrupt thinking as anyone else.
                              It is sad when people exhibit a lack of moral compass. This time it just happens to be SNAP people.

                              2 Replies
                              1. re: sedimental

                                Yeah, you know United has had glitches in its system a couple of times recently that have allowed people to book airfares for not much more than the government fees. People have applauded people who bought tickets for getting good deals, and United said it would honor the tickets. No one said they were greedy, should be charged with fraud, etc., even though it was obvious they were taking advantage of the system. I guess it's different when it's people who can afford vacations who are taking advantage of the system, not poor people who want food.

                                IMHO Xerox made it possible and Xerox should be responsible for its mistake. Xerox makes plenty of money administering the EBT system, it can afford to cover its own "glitches."

                              2. How do we know when that pic was taken? I believe SNAP applies only to eligible foods and I don't think Gatorade is one of them.

                                If I was on a computer id reverse search that pic.

                                4 Replies
                                1. re: youareabunny

                                  I drink Gatorade at the advice of my physician.

                                  1. re: youareabunny

                                    That depends on the state, I think. You can get Gatorade with SNAP in Virginia, along with soda, chips, and candy. The only thing you can't get is "prepared food", ie rotisserie chickens or anything hot and ready-to-eat.

                                    1. re: youareabunny

                                      Ok, assuming you are viewing this from your cell phone let me ask you this, where the heck do you see Gatorade in that picture? I'm in front of my 20+- inch computer screen at work and I can't make out any Gatorade!

                                      1. re: jrvedivici

                                        I actually can see it - in the front basket on the left, it's in the kiddie seat. You can shop for other things and pay for them separately without SNAP funds. For example in my state they have WIC assistance. Last week at the gas station I was in line behind a woman buying milk with a WIC card, cigarettes with a credit card, then a lottery ticket with cash. I am not attaching any judgment to this other than it took for freaking ever for me to check out because of her multiple transactions.

                                    2. It's Walmart's fault. I was at Market Basket in Chelsea, MA on Saturday when the food stamp system went down. Market Basket made multiple announcements and put up signs to the effect that until the glitch in the system was fixed, the store could not accept EBT cards. If a regional chain could make the smart decision to protect itself and the system, a large retailer certainly should have that capacity. Indeed, as a publicly traded company, it was incredibly irresponsible to shareholders.

                                      If your bank discovered a glitch that the system was telling cashiers to keep handing out cash, would it keep doing so? No.

                                      And for all of you judging the shoppers? Let he/she who lives without sin....

                                      9 Replies
                                      1. re: Cachetes

                                        I guess I'm a bit naive to the process, if the retailer is given advanced notice there is a problem with the system, then I agree completely.

                                        I assumed the retailer had no idea, besides the fact everyone's card was approved, perhaps for higher than normal amounts. If they were notified of the glitch and chose to continue to accept the payments, yes I agree it's Walmarts problem.

                                        By the same token though, I can see how people would be annoyed by those recipients who intentionally took advantage of the system as well. Based on the article we aren't talking about a few people going over their limit on necessities, it was an intentional act to steal or defraud.

                                        1. re: jrvedivici

                                          IMO if all thieves died in their sleep on the same night, the world would be a better place.

                                          1. re: Veggo

                                            I don't know...it would certainly be a lot emptier....

                                              1. re: linguafood

                                                Yep. Everyone who ever "fudged" on their tax return.

                                              2. re: Cachetes

                                                Ooops... I better hide that pen with my employer's logo that's in my kitchen...

                                            1. re: jrvedivici

                                              I agree that it's annoying when people take advantage of the system, but it unfortunately seems to be a pretty generalized trait of humanity in general. I mean, we could go really deep, and discuss how the system is stacked in a way so that there are ways for those with more power to take advantage of the system legally and in grand scale, while others are so disempowered that they can only do so illegally, and their take is mere scraps by comparison. But that's too depressing to contemplate.

                                            2. re: Cachetes

                                              One does not have to be blameless to recognize that exploiting a "glitch" to load up on goods one never intends to pay for and to do so precisely because one knows they can pass responsibility onto someone else is theft. And those who were not content to steal for themselves called up their friends and neighbors to join them in picking the shelves clean. Nothing is so easy as spreading the wealth when you don't have to pay the bill.

                                              Ultimately the Louisana stores chose to keep their doors open, but when a Mississippi Walmart closed during the EBT failure, shoppers just looted the store and walked out with unpaid for groceries, which is perhaps more honest than the folks who bothered with the pretense of handing over their empty EBT cards. If the Louisiana stores chose to stay open, even when it was clear they were being robbed, I suspect there are motivations we have not considered. Were there other local retailers shoppers could have turned to for food or would a Walmart shutdown have adversely affected families in the area?

                                              1. re: JungMann

                                                I am not defending the thieves, and I am especially not defending any looters. But the stores certainly could have managed this more effectively, if we judge them by comparison with other stores that did manage this situation more effectively. Theft is all around us, large and small. As Veggo suggests, we should get rid of them all. It will certainly lead to a glut of high-end mansions on our local market that I could perhaps finally afford.

                                            3. This incident will harden people's hearts against food assistance programs like this. So a few (relative to the total number of people receiving assistance) thieves will have jeopardized many others.

                                              1 Reply
                                              1. re: drongo

                                                And give TPTB yet another excuse to cut a much needed program.

                                              2. The whole fiasco is/was just a tiny, tiny glimpse into things to come. When the goose that lays the golden egg is finally killed and the free shit goes away, there will be chaos, cities will burn, and martial law will be the order of the day. Thanks to Walmart, Xerox, and all of the thug thieves... we have seen the future.

                                                2 Replies
                                                1. re: Uncle Bob

                                                  Dogs and cats, living together... MASS HYSTERIA!

                                                  1. re: Chris VR

                                                    One of my favorite movie quotes, ever! LOL.