Walmart Shelves Emptied in Food Stamp Shopping Spree

Good Morning America

ABC News Videos

Walmart Shelves Emptied After EBT Glitch

Walmart Shelves Emptied After EBT Glitch

Walmart Shelves Emptied After EBT Glitch

Now watching

Next video starts in : 7 Play

Walmart Shelves Emptied After EBT Glitch

Louisiana officials are trying to decide what to do about a massive shopping spree by families on food stamps when a power outage lifted the caps on their spending cards.

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," he said.

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."

He said one customer made about $700 in food purchases.

Read More: Walmart Drops Price of the iPhone 5c to $45 After Best Buy's Offer

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.

"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 Department of Agriculture, which administers the food stamp program, said the issue was not related to the government shutdown.

The Louisiana Department of Children and Family Services' spokesman Trey Williams said the agency is meeting today to discuss how to handle the issue.

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 outage allowed recipients to spend unlimited amounts of money because the spending limit was removed for their EBT cards.

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.

"The loss of power triggered a preventative shutdown of the EBT system to protect its overall integrity," according to a statement from Xerox spokesman Kevin Lightfoot. "While the system was restored within 22 minutes, the network experienced connectivity issues until our technical staff were able to re-establish full access just before 10 p.m. EST."

Lynd said the Springhill Walmart store manager called police on Saturday morning to ask for advice over crowd control. When he arrived, Lynd told the Walmart staff that they had the right to refuse service if they chose to, but Walmart's corporate office advised the store to allow customers to purchase what they wanted with the cards.

A spokeswoman for Walmart, Kayla Whaling, said the frenzied shopping in Louisiana "was isolated and is not representative of the what our stores experienced across the country."

Xerox said that it continues to "investigate the cause of the issue so we can take steps to ensure a similar interruption does not re-occur."

Read More: Wal-Mart Extends Benefits to Same-Sex Partners

A spokeswoman for Xerox, Jennifer Wasmer, said, "If there is an EBT system outage, there is an agreed and documented process for retailers to follow. The process includes a 'per cardholder, per day' spending limit that is set at a state level."

In Louisiana, the limit is $50 per cardholder per day, she said.

"The emergency process allows retailers to meet the critical food needs of cardholders even if the system is temporarily down," she said.

When asked about reports that Walmart customers were spending hundreds of dollars more than their account limits, Wasmer said ABC News would have to speak to retailers.

Walmart did not respond to a question about whether its Louisiana stores recognized a $50 limit.

ABC News' Gitika Kaul contributed to this report.

View Comments (18836)

Recommended for You

  • Wasserman Schultz to Step Down as Democratic National Committee Chair

    On the eve of the 2016 Democratic National Convention, Debbie Wasserman Schultz announced she would resign as Democratic National Committee chair at the end of the convention. In a statement laying out the goals of this election cycle she wrote: "The best way for me to accomplish those goals is to…

    Good Morning America
  • Tom Hiddleston Reveals How He's Handling His Rising Fame

    Tom Hiddleston is a successful actor in his own right, but even he can admit he has tons of new fans thanks to his new romance with pop singer Taylor Swift.The "Kong: Skull Island" star revealed how he's handling the increased attention on himself and his career."I don't know, it comes down to…

    Good Morning America
  • Selena Gomez Says She Feels 'Unauthentic' and 'Disconnected' From Her Music

    Just days after turning 24, Selena Gomez revealed that she's questioning not only her music but herself.The singer made the admission after kicking off the Asian leg of her tour, promoting her latest album "Revival," in Jakarta, Indonesia."Tonight I felt extremely unauthentic, unconnected to both…

    Good Morning America
  • Iggy Azalea Shares How She's Moving On After Splitting With Nick Young

    Iggy Azalea reportedly says she is doing just fine since splitting from NBA player Nick Young last month. The "Fancy" singer and Young, 31, began dating in 2013 and announced their engagement June 2015.

    Good Morning America
  • Democrats Downgrade Debbie Wasserman Schultz's Role at Convention

    Democratic National Committee chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz's role at the party's convention this will be severely limited, though she does appear likely to still gavel in the convention and may speak at some point this week in a brief fashion, according to party sources. The decision comes…

    Good Morning America
  • Michael Bloomberg to Endorse Hillary Clinton in DNC Speech

    Michael Bloomberg will endorse Hillary Clinton in a prime time address at the Democratic National Convention Wednesday, two Bloomberg advisers tell ABC News. Longtime Bloomberg adviser Stu Loeser tells ABC News the former New York City mayor will speak Wednesday in Philadelphia and endorse the…

    Good Morning America
  • Russia Escapes Blanket Ban on Participating in 2016 Olympics

    The International Olympic Committee has voted not to impose a blanket ban on Russia's participating in this summer’s Olympics in Rio de Janeiro over the country's state-directed cover-up of doping by its athletes. In a statement released today, the IOC declined to impose a total collective ban as…

    Good Morning America
  • 'Election Cycle': A Journey Across America From the Republican Convention to the Democratic Convention

    ABC News' Michael Koenigs is cycling 500 miles from the Republican Convention in Cleveland to the Democratic Convention in Philadelphia. The Republican National Convention came to a conclusion on Thursday night, after Donald Trump took to the stage to deliver his speech as the Republican…

    Good Morning America
  • Munich Shooter Was Planning Crime for Over a Year

    The 18-year-old gunman who officials say fatally shot nine people before killing himself at a busy shopping mall in Munich on Friday had been planning his crime for over a year and suffered from a range of mental health issues, according to officials. The attacker, whom authorities have yet to…

    Good Morning America
  • Meet 5 Democratic Delegates Headed to Philadelphia

    Clinton the dog can’t vote, but his owner, Donna West, will do that and more as a Philadelphia-bound Democratic Party delegate hoping to make history at this week's political convention. Politics can be a dog-eat-dog world for some, but Nevadan Donna West has always connected the two in a positive…

    Good Morning America
  • Alcohol Consumption Linked to 7 Types of Cancer, a Review of Research Finds

    Consuming alcoholic beverages, even in low quantities, increases the risk for seven types of cancer, according to a new review of research conducted by Professor Jennie Connor of the University of Otago in New Zealand. The review, published in the journal Addiction, supports an association between…

    Good Morning America
  • No Powerball Winner in Saturday's Drawing, Jackpot Grows to $422 Million

    If you didn't have the winning numbers for Saturday night's Powerball drawing -- which was an estimated $391 million jackpot -- don't be upset: No one else won either.The Texas Lottery confirmed early Sunday morning that there were no winners. Saturday's jackpot was the ninth largest in the game's…

    Good Morning America
  • The 5 Best Ways to Mess Up a Vacation Flight

    Off the top of my head, one of the best ways to screw up a vacation flight is to be a little too tired.Such was the case with an exhausted family group dozing in the airport a couple of years back; they completely missed the PA announcement that their flight was boarding and had to wait for another…

    Good Morning America
  • Wildfire Near Los Angeles Spreads to 20,000 Acres

    A burned body was found Saturday at the scene of a raging wildfire in Santa Clarita, California, north of Los Angeles, that has spread to 20,000 acres and forced the evacuation of 1,500 homes, officials said. The body was discovered outside a home on Iron Canyon Road in Santa Clarita, and…

    Good Morning America
  • Facebook Helps Adopted Minnesota Woman Find Her Birth Mother

    It wasn't until Kate-Madonna Hindes' second brush with cancer that made her finally finish the paperwork needed to find her birth mother. She was diagnosed with anal precancer after battling "multiple instances of cervical cancer in my life," the St. Paul, Minnesota, woman told ABC News. Doctors…

    Good Morning America
  • British Woman's Warning for Pet Owners Dealing With Soaring Temperatures Goes Viral

    A British woman who lost her dog due to heatstroke after taking him on a 30-minute walk around her neighborhood in the soaring temperatures is warning other pet owners. Courtney Rogers told ABC News the temperature had reached at its peak to about 86 degrees in Wirral, United Kingdom, earlier this…

    Good Morning America
  • Clinton Camp's Secret Plan to Announce Tim Kaine as Vice President

    Unlike Donald Trump's announcement of his running mate, Mike Pence, Hillary Clinton's search for a running mate was a closely guarded secret. Only a small team of aides were involved in the process and Clinton herself did not make her final decision about Virginia Sen. Tim Kaine until Friday…

    Good Morning America
  • Clinton, Kaine Ticket Debuts in Miami Ahead of DNC

    The two walked arm and arm onto the stage at Florida International University before a crowd of more than 5,000, making it one of the largest rallies to date for Clinton's campaign. "As I have said, the most important qualification when you are trying to make this really big choice is, 'Can this…

    Good Morning America
  • Mother of Slain US Diplomat Wants Trump to Stop Using his Death for Political Attacks

    The mother of slain U.S. Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens is calling on Donald Trump's campaign and the Republican Party to stop using her son’s name and death in Benghazi as fodder for political attacks. Stevens was serving as the U.S. ambassador to Libya when he was killed in a terrorist attack…

    Good Morning America
  • Comic-Con 2016: Warner Bros. Panel Live Blog

    Fans got a taste of what's to come from Gal Gadot's "Wonder Woman" on Saturday as the first official teaser trailer debuted at San Diego Comic-Con. "It's an honor and a privilege," Gadot said about bringing this icon to the big screen. "Wonder Woman" is set to hit theaters in June, 2, 2017.

    Good Morning America