U.S. Sen. David Vitter has urged Louisiana state officials to take action against those shoppers who engaged in the gluttonous shopping spree during the Electronic Benefit Transaction card outage last month.
In a letter sent Wednesday to the state’s Attorney General and Department of Children and Family Services, Vitter recommended any person found to have stolen groceries during the outage be disqualified from the EBT card program and face fraud and theft charges. He also asked that any retailer who failed to follow “proper protocol” be denied reimbursement for stolen merchandise during the shopping frenzy.
“The outrageous theft and fraud at several Louisiana retailers, including at the Wal-Mart stores in Mansfield and Springhill, is completely unacceptable,” Vitter wrote in the letter. “Like many citizens, I am appalled and believe there should be serious consequences for what occurred; so far, I have heard of none.”
October 30, 2013
Dear Attorney General Caldwell and Secretary Sonnier:
I write regarding the outrageous theft and fraud that occurred on Saturday, October 14, 2013, in the Louisiana SNAP or Food Stamp program.
Food Stamps have more than doubled in cost since 2008 and continue to grow in an unsustainable way, and the events in Louisiana unfortunately highlight the fraud surrounding the taxpayer- funded program. I believe there should be serious consequences for what occurred; so far, I have heard of none.
On October 14, a system failure by Xerox disabled the Electronic Benefits Transfer (EBT) system across many states, including Louisiana. This essentially erased any spending limits on many beneficiaries’ EBT cards for a period of time, contrary to law. Some Louisiana beneficiaries reacted by purchasing huge quantities of merchandise in dollar amounts clearly beyond their limits. Also, reports include some people bypassing checkout lines completely and simply walking out with full carts during the confusion. The Louisiana reports from October 14 are very well-documented, including at the Wal-Mart stores in Mansfield and Springhill.
I want to make three recommendations to ensure that this serious problem is addressed.
First, I urge you to ensure that no reimbursements are made to Louisiana retailers who did not follow mandated procedures during the system outage. I understand that the Wal-Mart stores in Mansfield and Springhill did not follow protocol, which requires a $50 limit and a requirement to call for authorization of charges during a system outage. Instead, these stores 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.
Second, I urge you to disqualify any Food Stamp beneficiaries who knowingly stole groceries from retailers during the outage. It should be clear that someone who tried to buy massive amounts of groceries purposefully attempted to exceed the program limits. That sort of fraud should be met with disqualification from the program at the very least.
Third, I urge you to form a task force with local prosecutors to prosecute individuals guilty of theft and fraud in these incidents. Clear documentary evidence exists for those who purchased items clearly in excess of their monthly limit. 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.
This situation should be addressed aggressively. If not, I fear that it will only encourage more such incidents in the future. Louisiana has an opportunity to be bold and set the example that abuse of this taxpayer-funded program will not be tolerated.
Thank you for your attention to this matter and for your work for Louisiana. I look forward to your written response and stand ready to help in any way I can.
Cc: The Honorable Bobby Jindal