The PJ Tatler

Vitter Wants Those Who Cleared Shelves During Glitch Banned from Food Benefits

Sen. David Vitter (R-La.) wants to make sure that both benefit recipients and stores are held to account for the recent run on groceries during an outage of the Electronic Benefits Transfer (EBT) system in his home state.

Shoppers cleared out shelves Oct. 14 when the system went down, with deluged Walmarts deciding to let transactions proceed despite the outage showing no spending limits for the cards.

Vitter said those who went on food grabs should be disqualified from receiving benefits.

“Food Stamps have more than doubled in cost since 2008 and continue to grow in an unsustainable way, and the events in Louisiana unfortunately highlight the fraud surrounding the taxpayer-funded program. I believe there should be serious consequences for what occurred; so far, I have heard of none,” Vitter wrote yesterday to Louisiana Attorney General Buddy Caldwell and Secretary of Department of Children and Family Services Suzy Sonnier.

The senator noted that some Louisiana beneficiaries reacted to the EBT outage, which affected several states, “by purchasing huge quantities of merchandise in dollar amounts clearly beyond their limits. Also, reports include some people bypassing checkout lines completely and simply walking out with full carts during the confusion. The Louisiana reports from October 14 are very well-documented, including at the Wal-Mart stores in Mansfield and Springhill.”

Vitter urged that “no reimbursements are made to Louisiana retailers who did not follow mandated procedures during the system outage.”

“I understand that the Wal-Mart stores in Mansfield and Springhill did not follow protocol, which requires a $50 limit and a requirement to call for authorization of charges during a system outage. Instead, these stores used a ‘store and forward’ method, which allowed EBT recipients to knowingly leave stores with more goods than their EBT allowance would permit. If a retailer did not follow procedures and allowed customers to charge goods that were obviously excessive and beyond limits, they should not be paid by taxpayers for losses they facilitated,” he wrote.

“Second, I urge you to disqualify any Food Stamp beneficiaries who knowingly stole groceries from retailers during the outage. It should be clear that someone who tried to buy massive amounts of groceries purposefully attempted to exceed the program limits. That sort of fraud should be met with disqualification from the program at the very least,” Vitter continued.

“Third, I urge you to form a task force with local prosecutors to prosecute individuals guilty of theft and fraud in these incidents. Clear documentary evidence exists for those who purchased items clearly in excess of their monthly limit. Whether the retailers involved, who were also at fault, want to press charges should be immaterial since you have all the documentary evidence you need for successful prosecutions without their help.”

According to WWLTV in New Orleans, Sonnier said in response to the Vitter letter that her department is asking the USDA for the right to sanction those who broke the law, noting that the state’s SNAP program permits a 12-month sanction from the program for a first offense, a 24-month suspension for a second offense and a permanent disqualification for a third offense.

“DCFS has no tolerance for fraud or abuse of the SNAP program and works aggressively every day, using the latest technology, to hold people accountable,” she said. “No unauthorized taxpayer dollars were used in Louisiana during the multi-state Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) EBT transaction outage.”

Vitter stressed that the incident should be “addressed aggressively.”

“If not, I fear that it will only encourage more such incidents in the future. Louisiana has an opportunity to be bold and set the example that abuse of this taxpayer-funded program will not be tolerated,” he said.