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Power outage prevents use of food stamps

| Saturday, Oct. 12, 2013, 10:21 p.m.

Shoppers in 17 states were unable to access food stamp benefits Saturday because of a power outage that disconnected system servers around the country.

Xerox Corp., an information-technology vendor that runs the electronic benefits transfer card servers in several states, lost power about 11 a.m. Saturday during a routine check, company spokeswoman Karen Arena told The Associated Press in an email. Food stamp benefits are loaded onto EBT cards that are swiped like a debit card.

The shutdown left grocery stores and other outlets unable to process purchases made through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, in Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan and other states from Maine to Oklahoma. Late on Saturday, Xerox reported that access to the system had been restored.

“It's hurting business and upsetting customers,” said Curtis Youngblood, store manager at Giant Eagle on Cedar Avenue, North Side. “People with cards are one of our major sources of transactions.”

Shoppers reported similar problems.

“It was terrible because I had a whole grocery cart full of food,” said Paula Riggleman, 54, of Rural Valley, Armstrong County. “I had to put everything back. It was so embarrassing.”

Riggleman said DiMaio's Supermarket “was like a ghost town” because many who live in that area, which has few job prospects, receive SNAP benefits they were unable to use.

Carey Miller, spokeswoman for Pennsylvania's Department of Public Welfare, said Xerox regained power in late morning or early afternoon, but it was still working on server-connectivity issues.

About 5 p.m. Saturday, it was still unclear when benefits would be accessible, she said.

Clients lost no benefits, but they were prevented from checking benefit balances over the phone.

Tonya Krivokucha of Greensburg said she and her husband could not use their EBT card at the Sav-A-Lot in Greensburg on Saturday morning, so they used their bank debit card to buy groceries.

“I thought it was the government shutdown,” Krivokucha said.

Ohio's cash and food assistance card payment systems went down at 11 a.m., said Benjamin Johnson, a spokesman for the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services. Ohio's cash system has been fixed; however, he said, its electronic benefits transfer card system is still down.

Johnson said Xerox notified retailers to revert to the manual system, meaning SNAP customers could spend up to $50 before the system was back online.

The Associated Press contributed to this report. Kari Andren is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-850-2856 or kandren@tribweb.com.

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