Monday, October 14, 2013 at 5:50 PM
Ohioans who use the federal food stamp system ran into trouble this weekend. Lisa Hamler Fugitt of the Ohio Association of Foodbanks says the system went down. And in an interview with Ohio Public Radio’s Jo Ingles, Hamler Fugitt explains that caused a lot of problems for low-income Ohioans.
HAMLER FUGITT: “Well it appears there was a massive outage attributed to the vendor in Ohio as well as 16 other states. It may have been an upgrade to the software that evidently the states had not been notified of. But to take the system down for an upgrade on a Saturday when numerous food stamp recipients were doing their shopping for the week is pretty is pretty unbelievable. We heard of the outage about 11 a.m. on Saturday and it appears the system was down for some 12 hours, forcing many who were attempting to purchase groceries to feed themselves and their families were in the situation of having to use rent or money that they had set aside to pay their utilities.”
INGLES: “So is the problem resolved now?”
HAMLER FUGITT: “Again, it is the holiday, Columbus Day. We have not heard or have received a report from the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services. The U.S. Dept of Agriculture is working with a very skeleton crew at both the regional and the national level due to government shutdown. So again, we’re not sure whether retailers were prepared to go to the disaster strategy or disaster plan allowing food stamp recipients to call a 1-800 number to voucher up to $50 of their groceries. It seems like the whole system was unprepared for a massive shutdown.”
INGLES: “So these food stamp recipients, under the situation, if they couldn’t get their card to work in the machine, would have been allowed to call somewhere and get $50 worth of groceries on their card, essentially, through the phone if they needed to, right?”
HAMLER FUGITT: “That’s correct. And that is a standard usage outage plan. We call it a disaster plan. Again, calling a 1-800 number, the grocers would be allow recipients to voucher up to $50 worth of their groceries. And I want to tell you that we began hearing of the outage a little after 11 o’clock on Saturday. And it ranged from the Toledo area clear to Southern Ohio. And again, it was apparent once we received the call from the regional administrator at USDA of the food stamp program, that this was was a massive failure.”
INGLES: “How many people were able to use the strategy of calling and getting clearance to get $50 worth of groceries or were all of these people stuck with using money for rent or whatever just to get groceries?”
HAMLER FUGITT: “That’s an excellent question and one we hope to receive a report from by tomorrow, and again using that as planning for the future. And as you know, with the government shutdown lingering, what we are faced with now is the state will have to make its decision by Oct. 21. It appears that food stamps may not be issued in November if the government doesn’t reach a resolution on the continuing resolution and the debt ceiling. Again, this has been a disaster. It has harmed a lot of low-income working families who weren’t making it already. And to have to take money they had set aside for rent, a mortgage payment or utilities or gas to get to work, is going to make further hardships on them throughout the month.”
The Ohio Association of Second Harvest Foodbank’s Lisa Hamler Fugitt says there is no plan to reimburse families who had to use cash to buy groceries in the outage. She says if the food stamp program is cut off in November, many Ohio families will be going hungry because there is nowhere for them to turn.
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