WASHINGTON, D.C. (KSLA) - A Louisiana senator is calling for SNAP users who took advantage of the EBT card glitch earlier this month to lose their benefits.
U.S. Sen. David Vitter on Wednesday sent a letter to Louisiana Attorney General Buddy Caldwell and the director of the state's Department of Children and Family Services asking for "aggressive action on the fraudulent events during the recent outage of the Electronic Benefits Transfer (EBT) system which led to massive theft of groceries in several Louisiana locations."
"The outrageous theft and fraud at several Louisiana retailers, including at the Wal-Mart stores in Mansfield and Springhill, is completely unacceptable," Vitter said in a statement released Wednesday afternoon. "Like many citizens, I am appalled and believe there should be serious consequences for what occurred; so far, I have heard of none."
Vitter has made three recommendations for state officials.
• Take action to ensure that no reimbursements are made to retailers who didn't follow proper protocol.
• Disqualify any EBT beneficiary who knowingly stole groceries during the outage.
• Work to set up a local task force to pursue prosecutions of the theft and fraud cases.
A system failure by Xerox is blamed for the glitch that essentially erased spending limits on Electronic Benefit Funds cards in 17 states on October 14, including Louisiana.
As KSLA News 12 was the first to report, that system failure led to shopping frenzies at Walmart stores in Mansfield and Springhill, Louisiana, in which some EBT cardholders loaded up on groceries and charged them to the temporarily unlimited cards. Police have confirmed that there were reports of some people simply walking out of the stores with cartloads of groceries without paying for them, while many others left the overflowing carts sitting in the aisles.
"Of course it was theft, it may have been theft from Walmart and Walmart because they screwed up to, they may not want to be involved but guess what it doesn't matter because we have plenty of documentation ..over charges. So Walmart can stay out of it and we can still prosecute as we should," said Senator Vitter during a phone interview.
Some stores followed their contractual obligation to set a $50 limit and call for authorization of charges during a system outage. There were no reported issues in those stores.
Vitter says the stores where problems were reported 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," Vitter said in his letter.
So far, none of the retailers involved have opted to press charges against those who used the cards beyond their limits. But Vitter wants the state to prosecute them. "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."
Read Sen. Vitter's letter to the Louisiana Attorney General and the Department of Children and Family Services here.
Steven Hartman, spokesperson for the Louisiana Department of Justice in the Office of the Attorney General released this statement late Wednesday afternoon: "The Attorney General's Office is very concerned about the reports of fraud and abuse regarding Louisiana SNAP. Our office does not have original jurisdiction regarding such criminal matters. Still, we stand ready and willing to assist the District Attorney's Office and the Department of Children and Family Services going forward."
Calls to Walmart requesting comment have not yet been returned.