Shoppers cleared shelves at two Louisiana Walmart stores over the weekend during an EBT glitch that prevented cards from displaying prescribed spending limits.
A random power outage seems to have triggered chaos in two Louisiana Walmart stores over the weekend: Xerox told CBS News that the outage occurred during a maintenance test. The two events at once were apparently just enough to throw the system for a loop.
Enter the chaos.
Some — not all — shoppers who receive food stamps through the Electronics Benefits Transfer (EBT) program decided to take advantage of the situation, during which set spending limits on the cards weren’t registering, by loading as much as they could carry into shopping carts. Police had to be called to help restore order. Not surprisingly, as soon as the glitch was corrected, people who were so quick to fill shopping carts with merchandise they knew their accounts didn’t entitle them to left the carts in the middle of aisles for employees to empty.
I’ve heard some suggest that Walmart should have immediately suspended all sales to EBT customers. To its credit, the retailer tracked all of the transactions, but stopped short of cutting access, reasoning that there were families in need who would do the right thing. Some actually did do the right thing, choosing to not take advantage of the system’s failure despite their financial hardship.
Those people should be rewarded. Don’t ask me how, considering the economic trouble we’re already having in Washington. If you have any good ideas, let me know.
But what about the people who knowingly rang up merchandise that crossed their limits? Isn’t that theft? Or isn’t it? They surely knew, if they’d had any history on the food stamp program at all, how much they could and couldn’t buy during a routine shopping trip. Because of that, if they loaded their carts well beyond that amount, how can it be anything other than a case of trying to cheat the system?
They couldn’t have believed it was some random “gift” from the government, considering it’s currently being run by a bunch of pig-headed morons who can’t even agree long enough to keep itself open for business.
But then they’re facing their own problems: among them, the need to eat despite the lack of enough money to actually put food on their family’s table. A kind of hardship that the majority of us who might easily point a finger of disdain in their direction have never really faced. To put it another way, it’s easy to be critical of “desperate” people when the critics themselves have never faced that level of desperation.
If the people who refused to “pull a fast one” during the glitch deserve a reward for doing the right thing, what about those who did the wrong thing? Suspend their benefits for a month? You’re potentially suspending the chance their families have to eat that month. Make them pay back the money? There was never “money” to begin with: a computer failure gave them a virtual blank check when there wasn’t the money in the account to begin with. Jail time? Who’s going to feed the families then?
Louisiana’s attorney general says it would be up to the state’s Department of Children and Family Services, which oversees the food stamp benefits. DCFS says the retailer — Walmart — is responsible for the overages, because it failed to get on the phone to determine the spending limit for each voucher manually, then sell merchandise accordingly. Because Walmart chose to allow the sales to go, apparently without attempting to establish proper limits that were temporarily lifted because of the glitch, it’s Walmart that will likely have to swallow the cost of the overages; as such, DCFS, told KSFA-TV in Shreveport, Louisiana, won’t prosecute the shoppers themselves since no “fraud” had been committed.
It would then be up to Walmart to try to recoup its losses from the shoppers themselves. Good luck with that one.
What do you think? Should shoppers be responsible for the bills or should Walmart just have to absorb the cost? Do you punish those who knowingly took advantage of the glitch and if so, how?