UPDATE: Xerox Corp. says that access to food stamp systems has been restored in 17 states that were affected by a temporary outage.
People in Ohio, Michigan and Texas were unable to use food stamp debit-style cards for hours on Saturday. Xerox said a routine test of backup systems resulted in a temporary system failure.
Xerox Spokeswoman Jennifer Wasmer said in an email that it took time to restore the system and make sure it was fully functional.
U.S. Department of Agriculture spokeswoman Courtney Rowe says the outage is not related to the government shutdown.
In Clarksdale, Miss. - one of the poorest parts of one of the poorest states in the nation - cashier Eliza Shook said dozens of customers at Corner Grocery had to put back groceries when the cards failed Saturday because they couldn't afford to pay for the food. After several hours, she put a sign on the front door to tell people about the problem.
"It's been terrible," Shook said in a phone interview. "It's just been some angry folks. That's what a lot of folks depend on."
Mississippi Department of Human Services director Rickey Berry confirmed that Xerox, the state's EBT vendor, had computer problems. He said he had been told by mid-afternoon that the problems were being fixed.
"I know there are a lot of mad people," Berry said.
Sheree Powell, a spokeswoman for the Oklahoma Department of Human Services, started receiving calls around 11:30 a.m. about problems with the state's card systems. More than 600,000 Oklahomans receive SNAP benefits, and money is dispersed to the cards on the first, fifth and 10th days of every month, so the disruption came at what is typically a high-use time for the cards.
Oklahoma also runs a separate debit card system for other state benefits like unemployment payments. Those cards can be used at ATMs to withdraw cash. Powell said Xerox administers both the EBT and debit card systems, and they both were down initially.
Like Ohio's Johnson, Powell said that Oklahoma's cash debit card system has since been restored, but the EBT cards for the SNAP program were still down. Powell said Oklahoma's Xerox representative told them that the problems stemmed from a power failure at a data center, and power had been restored quickly.
"It just takes a while to reboot these systems," she said, adding that she did not know where the data center was located.
Powell said that some grocery store cashiers had been speculating that the federal government's shutdown caused the problem, but state officials have been assured that is not the case.
"We are hopeful it will be up this afternoon but we were not given a specific time frame," she said.
David Akerly, a spokesman for Michigan's Department of Human Services, also confirmed that residents in his state have reported problems using their cards.
Associated Press writers Lisa Rathke contributed from Montpelier, Vt., Dan Sewell from Cincinnati, Tom Murphy from Indianapolis, Sara Burnett from Chicago, Emily Wagster from Jackson, Miss., and Mary Clare Jalonick from Washington, D.C.
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