The food stamp program that provides assistance to thousands of low-income families was down statewide Saturday, but was restored about 9 p.m., officials said.
Sheree Powell, spokeswoman for the Oklahoma Department of Human Services, said she found out early Saturday afternoon that the system for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, often referred to as “food stamps,” was down throughout Oklahoma.
The system failure was due to a power outage at Xerox, which is the vendor for Oklahoma's SNAP benefits program.
About 9 p.m., Xerox issued a news release stating: “Beneficiary access to programs such as SNAP, TANF, and other programs has been restored to the 17 states where Xerox provides EBT service.
“Restarting the EBT system required time to ensure service was back at full functionality. Beneficiaries who required immediate access to their benefits could work with their local merchants who could activate an emergency voucher process where available. We appreciate our clients' patience while we resolved this issue and apologize for any inconvenience.
“We realize that access to these benefits is important to families in the states we serve. We continue to investigate the cause of the issue so we can take steps to ensure a similar interruption does not reoccur.”
Earlier in the afternoon Powell said Xerox was working on its system and that DHS would update its website to alert SNAP users when it was working again.
“Usually, benefits are disbursed on the 1st, 5th and 10th of each month, so I would imagine those people who got their benefits on their cards on the 10th are probably the ones experiencing problems right now,” Powell said. “I would imagine the other folks who received their benefits earlier have already done their shopping.”
Oklahoma is not the only state that was affected. Media outlets outside of Oklahoma reported several other states where residents were being declined access to their benefits Saturday.
Powell said the system failure was not related to the federal government's partial shutdown.
“As you can imagine, there was a lot of concern and speculation of the cause of the system outage,” Powell said. “There were some cashiers at some grocery stores that were telling consumers it was due to the federal government shutdown, but that is absolutely not the case. I have talked with our contact at U.S. Department of Agriculture, and this is not a problem with the SNAP program itself.”
The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program enables low-income families to buy food with Electronic Benefits Transfer cards, according to the state agency. SNAP recipients spend their benefits to buy eligible food in authorized stores, DHS said.
On average, more than 600,000 children and adults in Oklahoma use the program to buy food.
The power outage at Xerox also affected the debit card system that the state agency uses to administer cash benefits for Temporary Assistance For Needy Families, foster care payments, adoption assistance and child support.
That system was working again Saturday afternoon, Powell said.
Xerox had authorized some retailers, including Walmart, to revert to manual systems, Powell said. The workaround let people access up to $50 of their benefits until Xerox restored the system.
Only retailers that contract with the U.S. Agriculture Department's Food and Nutrition Service were allowed to use their manual systems, she said.
There were some cashiers at some grocery stores that were telling consumers it was due to the federal government shutdown, but that is absolutely not the case”
Oklahoma Department of Human Services spokeswoman