BATON ROUGE - The state Department of Children and Family Services announced today they will start disqualification procedures for people who misused the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or food stamps, during a recent outage.
The state said people who overspent their EBT balance or bought items when they weren't eligible to make purchases will receive letters notifying them about the disqualification. They'll have the choice to request an appeals hearing, or waive that appeal and be disqualified. DCFS said they'll schedule administrative hearings for anyone who doesn't respond to the letters.
DCFS said their Fraud and Recovery Unit has details of about about 12,000 purchases made during the EBT outage on Oct. 12 which exceeded the cards' balance. They said they don't think everyone who used an EBT card during the outage intentionally committed fraud, and that they are looking at each case individually.
The outage was blamed on an equipment failure at Xerox, the company which handles the EBT program for Louisiana. During the outage people swarmed some grocery stores and retailers to use their cards, which were not declining purchases past the balance left on them.
The state said some retailers didn't follow established guidelines to stop taking EBT purchases during the outage. DCFS notified those retailers after the outage they would only honor purchases up to the amount left on the cards.
Africa Chinwah uses EBT cards and says she understands why people abused their limits.
"I don't feel like they should have said, 'I'm not going to use my card today' or 'I know I'm not supposed to have this much, so I'm going to stop at this limit,' no," said Chinwah.
Other shoppers say people should be held accountable for their actions.
"They were stealing," said Abby Theriot. "They stole and that's against the law."
"I would have loved to have had that privilege, but you know, it's never going to happen," said Terri Harding. "It shouldn't have happened then."
DCFS said according to federal guidelines, first-time offenders would receive a year-long disqualification from the program, second-time offenders would be disqualified for two years, and third-time offenders would be kicked out permanently.