Walmart to Get Stuck With Most of Food Stamp Shopping Spree

PHOTO: Walmart
Share
Copy

A couple of Louisiana Walmart stores will be stuck with most of the bill after food stamp recipients went on a colossal shopping spree when a power outage temporarily lifted their spending limits, state officials said today.

Police were called to Walmart locations in Mansfield, La., and Springhill, La., on Saturday as shoppers cleaned out store shelves.

Springhill Police Chief Will Lynd said some customers were pushing more food than any household could store in a refrigerator and freezer.

"I saw people drag out eight to ten grocery carts," Lynd said. One person hauled away more than $700 worth of groceries, the chief said.

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.

PHOTO: Shelves in the Walmart store in Springhill, LA
Courtesy KSLA.com
PHOTO: Shelves in the Walmart store in Springhill, LA

Following the policy clarification by the Louisiana Department of Children and Family Services, Walmart told ABCNews.com the incident was "isolated" and the company doesn't believe it had any material impact to its U.S. business.

The shopping frenzy was triggered when the Electronic Benefits Transfer system went down because a back-up generator failed at 11 a.m. EST Saturday during a regularly-scheduled test, according to Xerox, a vendor for the EBT system and based in Norwalk, Conn.

The bill could be a sizeable one for Walmart.

Lynd said customers were "not unruly." There were no fights or arrests made, but the scene was still chaotic, he said.

"It was definitely worse than Black Friday. It was worse than anything we had ever seen in this town," Lynd said of Springhill, which is near the border with Arkansas. "There was no food left on any of the shelves, and no meat left. The grocery part of Walmart was totally decimated."

Lynd said that around 9 p.m. CT on Saturday, a Walmart employee made an announcement on the intercom saying that the computer system had been restored and card limits had returned. At that time, customers left shopping carts full of food in store aisles, he said.

"At that point in time, they knew the jig was up and they couldn't purchase what they wanted to," Lynd said.

In the Walmart store in Mansfield, about 80 miles south of Springhill, staff temporarily closed the store to new customers to prevent a fire hazard with the existing number of shoppers.

Mansfield's Chief of Police Gary Hobbs said no arrests were made and there were no incidents besides customers "pushing and shoving." Hobbs said there were reports that customers were checking out with six to eight shopping carts, then returning later in the day to purchase more.

Unlike Walmart, other grocery stores in town told customers they would not accept EBT cards until the card limits were evident again, Hobbs said.

The EBT system was affected in 17 states, where individuals and households access programs like Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, and other programs.

ABC News' Gitika Kaul contributed to this report.

Join the Discussion
blog comments powered by Disqus
 
You Might Also Like...