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Some supermarkets unable to process food stamps

A technical glitch left shoppers who rely on food stamps to buy their groceries unable to pay at many supermarkets for much of the day Saturday.

A spokeswoman for Xerox, which runs the benefits system in Maryland and 16 other states, said the underlying problem had been fixed Saturday afternoon but some stores were still experience problems.

Brian M. Schleter, a spokesman for the Maryland Department of Human Resources, which is responsible for the EBT — or Electronic Benefits Transfer — card system, confirmed the problem.

“During routine maintenance on its data center today, the IT vendor we use to administer the food stamp program experienced an outage with their EBT system,” Schleter said Saturday afternoon. “The statewide outage is ongoing.”

The problems appeared to be affecting a number of states and Karen Arena, another spokeswoman for Xerox, which has the contract to run EBT system in Maryland and elsewhere, said the problems stemmed from a routine system check.

Karen Sahlender, a cashier at the Safeway in Canton, said the system had been down most of the day and that other Safeways in the area were also experiencing problems. Meghan Barnes, a manager at Eddies of Mt. Vernon, said the system was not working there, either. Similar incidents were reported across the country Saturday.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture posted to its website before the federal government shutdown that the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program — the formal name for food stamps — would not be affected by the funding crisis. There was no indication the problems were connected to the shutdown, Arena said.

But Sahlender said shoppers were concerned nonetheless.

“Customers are worried because the government said they wouldn't be shutting down the assistance for them,” she said.

Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake said in a statement that officials would work to get city residents food if the problems continued.

“I am deeply disturbed by incidents of EBT cards being declined here in Baltimore City and around the country,” Rawlings-Blake said “At a time when economic anxiety is already high given the budget shenanigans in Washington, denying access to food for low income families seems particularly cruel.”

iduncan@baltsun.com
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Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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