Power outage blamed for EBT card problems that hit 17 states

Posted Oct. 12, 2013, at 3:12 p.m.
Last modified Oct. 13, 2013, at 5:36 a.m.

BANGOR, Maine — The Electronic Benefits Transfer system that allows welfare recipients to buy groceries and other necessities experienced issues on Saturday. In some cases, people weren’t able to buy groceries.

A vendor system failure was blamed for the issues, according to Gov. Paul LePage.

“This failure was the result of a major power outage at Xerox, which operates EBT systems in 17 states, including Maine,” Gov. LePage said in a statement on Saturday. “Xerox has informed us that it is working to resolve this problem and hopes to have the system restored within a couple of hours.”

Xerox was testing generator backups when it encountered the failure, according to the governor’s office. It caused a power failure at about 11 a.m. on Saturday. Xerox was able to bring back its primary power, but connectivity to Maine and the other states was still down.

“We are very sorry for any inconvenience this has caused,” Mary Mayhew, commissioner of the Maine Department of Health and Human Services, said in a statement. “We have been in contact with the vendor who is working diligently to address the problem, and we expect it to be resolved shortly.”

The U.S. Department of Agriculture said the outage was not related to the government shutdown.

Several people called the Bangor Daily News office on Saturday to report issues with their EBT cards, known as the Pine Tree Card in Maine. The website for the Pine Tree Card was temporarily unavailable on Saturday afternoon.

“Me and my wife were in line behind a couple at Walmart. All the items were scanned, but when they swiped the card, it came up with an error,” said one man who asked not to be identified.

News outlets from across the country have been reporting similar issues.

“Apparently it’s a nationwide problem,” said Willy Ritch, senior advisor and communications director for U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree.

“All we know is that the system seems to be down, if not sporadic. We’ve been experiencing problems with it,” Shaw’s spokesman Steve Sylven said on Saturday.

Sylven said the impact should be minimal to Shaw’s customers.

“We have a backup protocol in place to capture those transactions via an offline form,” he said.

Shaw’s operates in 157 stores all New England states except Connecticut. Sylven said he didn’t know which states were affected, but a notice to use the offline process for handling EBT transactions was sent to all stores.

A customer service representative at Shaw’s Supermarket on Main Street in Bangor said on Saturday afternoon that the store could process up to $149 on customers’ EBT cards, but anything more would have to be a separate purchase.

Danforth’s Down Home Supermarket in Hermon said it had not had any issues related to the EBT system on Saturday. A customer service representative at Hannaford’s in Brewer said they could process EBT transactions, but the customer’s balance wouldn’t be available.

The website for the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which administers the EBT system, is offline because of the government shutdown.

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