BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - [if gte mso 9]>
[if gte mso 9]>
The images of shopping carts piled with groceries after a computer glitch involving food stamp EBT cards are hard to forget.
Louisiana is now going after some of the people it believes illegally took advantage of the mix-up, but some leaders are wondering if it's the right approach.
Cell phone video from a Walmart in north Louisiana showed the chaos that ensued after the Electronic Benefit Transfer or EBT system crashed for hours on October 12. The computer failure in October, according to the Louisiana Department of Children and Family Services resulted in some customers intentionally exceeding their limits on their snap benefit cards.
DCFS sent out a letter to some card holders seeking information on their transactions on the day in question adding infractions could equal the disqualification of benefits.
"It's something they do need to look into and do an investigation but I just don't know if that letter is going to get them what they're looking for as an end result," said State Representative Pat Smith.
Smith acknowledges some may have abused the system during the crash but adds the severe violators are not likely to admit it in a letter.
"I don't know anyone that made the decision to go and use the card is going to send the information in so I'm sure they're going to have to do a lot more of an investigation of what actually occurred on that day," said Smith.
Megan Matthews is a student and says she was working as a cashier on the day on October 12. She says her store turned away customers and refused to honor the cards during the crash and she believes those who intentionally cheated the system should have to pay up.
"It's only fair they should do something I don't mean cut them off completely but they should be able to get their money back and cut their benefits down to taken what they spent and deduct it off their card," added Matthews.
Others like Gloria West believe it's not that simple and worry that taking away benefits could hurt those who need it most, children in need.
"These people qualify for benefits they have low incomes or whatever their situation is so it's food it's groceries. You wouldn't buy it if you didn't need it," said West.
The investigation into the misuse of the state's SNAP benefit cards is being handled by the DCFS Fraud Recovery Unit. The letter also states those found to have cheated the system could also be forced to pay back the retailers involved.
Below is a copy of the letter:
Dear Xxxxxx Xxxxxxxx :
On October 12, 2013, the Louisiana Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) system was down and not able to process EBT purchases for approximately 10 hours. During this time, Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefit balances were not available to retailers.
The Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) has documentation that your EBT card was used at the locations identified on the attached list of transactions during this time to make purchases in excess of your available balance. Any transaction in excess of your available balance would be considered a non-sufficient fund (NSF) transaction.
Should it be determined that you deliberately made these purchases knowing that you did not have the available benefits, you may be disqualified from receiving SNAP benefits for 12 months if this is your first violation, 24 months for a second violation or permanently for a third violation (federal regulation 7CFR 273.16 and DCFS Chapter 16 - Intentional Program Violation). While restitution is not owed to DCFS, restitution may be sought by the retailers involved.
Please answer the questions pertaining to purchases identified in this letter on the attached form and return by November 27, 2013. Responses should be returned to the Fraud and Recovery Unit, P.O. Box 91147, Baton Rouge, Louisiana 70821-9147.
If you need additional information, you may call the Fraud and Recovery Unit at (888) LA-HELPU.
Jesse Wright, Director
Fraud and Recovery Unit