State's Food Stamp Temporary Shutdown

September 20, 2009 12:00:00 AM PDT
People who use food stamps and electronic benefit transfer, or E.B.T., cards were not able to use those services Saturday and Sunday because of a statewide change.Christina Villalobos was one of several customers turned away from this Southwest Fresno grocery store Saturday. She was trying to buy food for her children, not knowing her EBT card wouldn't be accepted.

An estimated 65-thousand people in Fresno County rely on food stamps and EBT cards. But they've been useless for the past 24-hours. The outage was the result of a statewide transition of services from one contractor to another.

Vivian Aldridge of the Fresno County Department of Employment and Temporary Assistance says there's a reason they made the vendor switch now, instead of later. "Most of their benefits have been used this time of the month and that's one reason why the vendor chose and the state chose this month, or this time period."

But people like Maria Lopez, who don't have a lot of time to go to the grocery store, say it's an inconvenience. "I still have money left, so now I'm just going to have to wait until the middle of next week."

A month before this weekend's outage, the state sent out flyers and even made phone calls to alert food stamp recipients. In addition, grocery stores posted signs. And although some shoppers say they didn't receive any advance notice, at least a few admit, they simply forgot.

"There's been notices up about it but I totally forgot today was the 19th and so we came all the way here to go grocery shopping and we're going home now."

JPMorgan used to run the state's EBT card system, but their contract was up. To save money, the state asked for companies to bid and they chose the best offer.

A state official says to their knowledge, this is the first time the state's food stamp system has gone down for this long.

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