Social media lit up with harsh reactions Monday following a glitch in the Electronic Benefits Transfer (EBT) system that led to shopping pandemonium at Wal-Mart locations in Louisiana.
Scores of shoppers cleared Wal-Mart shelves at stores in Springhill and Mansfield when spending limits on their EBT cards were mysteriously lifted for two hours, the local CBS affiliate KSLA reported. All-out shopping sprees and chaos ensued after a corporate executive for Wal-Mart Stores Inc. (NYSE:WMT) reportedly told the locations to honor the cards despite the limitless spending. KLSA reported that no arrests were made, but local police had to be called to assist.
The outage affected access to government-benefit programs such as SNAP and TANF in 17 states. Mississippi’s Clarion Ledger reported a “mini riot” at a Wal-Mart location in Philadelphia, Miss., where shoppers were unable to use their cards. Xerox Corp. (NYSE:XRX), which hosts the system infrastructure, said in a statement that the issue has been resolved following a reboot of the system that required time to the service was back to full functionality.
“We appreciate our clients’ patience while we resolved this issue and apologize for any inconvenience. We realize that access to these benefits is important to families in the states we serve,” the company said. “We continue to investigate the cause of the issue so we can take steps to ensure a similar interruption does not re-occur.”
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Across Twitter Monday, a handful of users posted photos of the incident, while countless others chimed in with commentary underscoring an increasingly bitter political divide over government-assistance programs. Just last month House Republicans voted to cut $39 billion from the federal food-stamp program over the next decade. Many commenters took the opportunity to berate the shoppers for what they say amounted to theft.
Hey, taxpayer...you've been mugged. Walmart shelves in Springhill, Mansfield, cleared in EBT glitch - KSLA News 12 http://t.co/WpgLcKEAR0
â€” Conservatarian (@z56po) October 14, 2013
How many ho-hos is enough? Not grateful for charity they receive, only angry when they don't get what they "DESERVE" http://t.co/uEl7M8bR7o
â€” Luke Rosiak (@lukerosiak) October 14, 2013
â€” Charles Guiteau (@FreeportIL) October 14, 2013
These dirtbags leeching off the system should all be thrown in jail. The EBT/SNAP/Food Stamp program should be... http://t.co/HAkKK6iqZ6
â€” Michael Sadick (@MichaelSadick) October 14, 2013
Some professional pundits weighed in with similar sentiments. The conservative radio host Glenn Beck called the shoppers “thieves and animals,” according to his Blaze website. Meanwhile, a post on the website Before It’s News simply blamed “Obama voters” for the incident.
In the end, Wal-Mart may be the real winner here, at least from a PR standpoint. Many Twitter users mentioned the retail giant’s “generosity” in honoring the limitless cards. Although it’s still unclear who will pay for the extra purchases, Kayla Whaling, a spokeswoman for Wal-Mart, told International Business Times that the company doesn’t believe the incident will have any “material impact” on its U.S. business. Asked about the characterization that Wal-Mart’s response to the incident was generous, she didn’t disagree.
“Our customers count on us,” Whaling said. “We feel fortunate that we were able to step in and continue to serve them so that they could buy the necessary items for their families.”