Friday, April 8, 2011

[Ottumwa, Iowa] – Walmart, Friday night, just before 10:00 PM. Only a handful of registers are open and the lines at each are long. I am in one of those lines. Waiting is not a problem for me; and oddly, this seemed to be true for most of my fellow shoppers.

Then I see the line of shopping carts full of merchandise sitting in the Customer Service area: some carts full of bagged items, others full of items that need to be scanned. What is all this?

When I am made aware of the reasons that conspired to make this evening an unusually chaotic event, both for shoppers and staff, I am agitated. I could only imagine what the store must have looked like even an hour earlier.

Few cashiers and long lines were due to abnormal staff shortages. Any other time, this would have been merely an inconvenience. Now, couple staff shortages with the failure of the Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) System that prohibited recipients of food stamps to make any purchases. Hence, the many carts of food sitting abandoned at the front of the store, waiting for already over-taxed [the pun fits] store employees to return the items to their appropriate locales.

Why was I the only one who seemed to be outraged by this? It wasn’t the inadequate staff or long lines that were sparking my ire. It was the knowledge that some of the poorest and neediest had been forced to leave without their food. How could this happen? Who or what was to blame?

To answer those questions, it is necessary to understand how the EBT System works.
                   EBT has many benefits!
  • Replaces paper food stamps and checks
  • Safer and more secure than carrying cash or checks
  • Faster payment
  • Convenient and easy to use
That’s what the web page says. “Safer and more secure…Faster
payment…Convenient and easy to use.”
                       What is EBT?
  • EBT is used in all states to issue food stamp benefits to recipients.
  • Many states also issue cash benefits such as TANF using EBT.
  • Recipients are issued an “EBT Card” similar to a bank ATM or debit card to receive and use their food stamp and/or cash benefits.
  • Benefits are automatically deposited onto the card by the State.
  • Recipients with food stamp benefits can use their EBT Card for eligible food purchases at most grocery stores and some other retailers. Food stamps can only be used for food and for plants and seeds to grow food for your household to eat. Food stamps cannot be used to buy:
  • - Any nonfood item, such as pet foods, soaps, paper products, and household supplies, grooming items, toothpaste, and cosmetics. - Alcoholic beverages and tobacco. - Vitamins and medicines.
  • Recipients with cash benefits can use their EBT Card like cash for purchases and cash-back with purchases at grocery stores and at most ATMs (automated teller machines).
EBT…used in every state to issue food stamp benefits to recipients…similar to ATM or debit cards…funds deposited onto the card by the State…card [acts] like cash for eligible purchases.

…by the State…[acts] like cash…

…safe…more secure…faster…convenient…easy… [acts] like cash…

The carts at the front of the store were full of food items that EBT recipients were unable to purchase because there was some sort of failure in the system. And, apparently, there is no back-up plan in place to be implemented when the system fails. Unbelievable.

And, the store and their staff are made to be the “bad guys” who will take the blame and the wrath of the EBT recipients whose purchases were rejected through absolutely no fault of the store or its staff, whatever. This was not a Walmart problem. The store and the staff were victims every bit as much as the EBT recipients. This is an outrage!

Here is TRUTH:
1. We, the people, are free
2. Markets are free to conduct business with the people
3. The Government is charged with the duty of providing us with a money that can be used to exchange for items in the market place of the peoples’ choosing.
4. The Government is charged with the general welfare of the people.

If it is the Government’s intention to force we, the people, to abandon our traditional money in favour of Electronic Banking, then it seems reasonable that the Government had better make provision to see that we, the people, have free and uninterrupted access to what is rightfully ours.

And, if the Government insists that the poorest and neediest among us must make use of this miserable Electronic Banking system as well, through a program known as EBT, then to insure that the poorest and neediest among us receive adequate nutrition, it is even more critical and necessary that the people have free and uninterrupted access to the funds that the Government insists are their benefits.

What I witnessed this evening is the most wicked injustice.

To perpetrate such an injustice as Electronic Banking is already proving to be, on the working class people, is questionable at best. To perpetrate such an injustice on the poorest and neediest, the thousands of unemployed  - all who are worthy of so much more dignity and respect - is despicable. 

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