EBT Outage Provides Opportunity for Real Compassion

There was panic at supermarkets over the weekend. Low-income Americans in 17 states were turned away from cash registers due to a computer outage affecting their electronic food-stamp cards.

Outrage erupted in store aisles and even on Twitter.

Many spread false rumors about the EBT outage, most commonly tying the system failure to the federal government’s 17% shutdown. In reality, one company that administers the program accidentally took it offline during a test of backup systems.

The error prevented cashiers from determining how much credit was left on the EBT cards. Stores couldn’t be certian whether customers had $1 on their card or $300, and couldn’t process sales.

Families relying on these government benefits had to abandon shopping carts full of food and worried how and where they would find their next meal. It sounds like a old story from behind the Iron Curtain or a scene from Soylent Green, but this is America in 2013.

While most markets wouldn’t let customers use their EBT cards until the system was fixed, two Walmart stores in rural Louisiana made what they thought was a more compassionate decision. They allowed shoppers to use the cards anyway.

As word spread of the “generosity,” chaos ensued. People with little to no credit on their EBT cards emptied store shelves and meat cases hoping to get through the checkout before the systems came back online. Police had to be called in for crowd control. When WalMart announced everything was back to normal, people abandoned their carts full of food and left it to spoil. 

We are told that programs like food stamps, SNAP and WIC are compassionate. Those of us who wish to reduce dependency are mocked for being cruel and heartless toward the poor. 

In reality, government’s version of “compassion” left poor moms crying in supermarket aisles because they didn’t know how to feed their children. Walmart’s “compassion” provoked ransacking mobs trying to take advantage of a computer glitch.

It is immoral that so many poor Americans feel like they must rely on an incompetent government to provide their daily bread. There is nothing compassionate about turning able-bodied adults into helpless wards of the state or grocery store looters.

A truly compassionate system would allow businesses to grow and hire, providing our fellow citizens with paychecks instead of handouts. A compassionate system would allow Americans to devote more of their money to effective charities instead of having so much seized by an incompetent government.

Compassion is not measured by how many people have EBT cards, but by how many people no longer need them.

Follow Jon on Twitter at @ExJon.