Shopping at Walmart stores in two Louisiana towns became a literal free-for-all on the evening of October 12 when store management allowed purchases on Electronic Benefits Transfer (EBT) even though the government-issued cards showed not purchasing limits. Media reports contend that the EBT cards had been affected by a computer system malfunction, rather than the current partial federal government shutdown.
When the EBT cards were not showing limits, local store management in Springhill and Mansfield LA called Walmart corporate offices which urged the stores to allow use of the cards. It was then between 7 p.m. and 9 p.m. that EBT shoppers rushed through the store, clearing shelves of food and other allowed merchandise. People loaded up their shopping carts until about 9 p.m. when the EBT cards again began to show shopping limits. Local media reported that one woman was detained because she had a bill of $700.00 and only had 49 cents left on her card. The woman was detained by local police until Walmart corporate management said no charges would be pressed if she left the food at the store.
When the EBT cards came back online, and was announced by loudspeaker in the stores, shoppers simply left their shopping carts full of food in the aisles and left the store. Witnesses said that they had never before experienced such an incident, and said that nearly everything was gone from the store.
The chaos at the two stores required police intervention. Police were called to assist Walmart employees to the glitch-generated shopping spree as shelves were swept clean. Local police chief Will Lynd contended that the scene he witnessed was “ worse than any black Friday." The stores were forced to stop selling food at 9 p.m.
Walmart employees were still putting food away from the abandoned carts on the afternoon of October 13, the following day. Dozens of shopping carts were left abandoned at the two stores. Police chief Lynd denied that there was any violence or arrests, saying that his officers were there to prevent shoplifting and other theft.
The events in Louisiana happened when the EBT system, administered by Xerox, failed in several states.
Asked whether Walmart would be taking the loss on any food purchased on the cards that did not show limits, or on the perishable food left behind in carts, Whaling would only say that "we monitored transactions during the outage."
A spokesperson for the Louisiana Department of Children and Family Services says they take all allegations of potential fraud seriously, they are aware of the reports and they will be investigating.
According to a notice posted on the Louisiana department of social services, "While transactional systems maintained by DCFS contractors may have been impacted by today's outage, the systems that DCFS uses to track EBT card usage and identify fraud were still in place. DCFS vigorously investigates all fraud claims. Anyone suspected of fraudulently using public assistance benefits are investigated and prosecuted to the full extent of the law. The public is encouraged to report cases of suspected SNAP fraud by calling the DCFS toll-free hotline at 1-888-LAHELP-U and selecting option 7 from the main menu or by visiting www.dcfs.la.gov/ReportFraud."
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