Low-income people in Michigan were periodically unable to use their Bridge Cards on three days this week because of a glitch involving a vendor.
The disruptions started Wednesday and were linked to hardware problems at Conduent, a company that handles Electronic Benefits Transfer (EBT) transactions for Michigan and other states, said Bob Wheaton, a spokesman for the Michigan Department of Health & Human Services.
More than 700,000 households — or about 1.3 million people — in Michigan receive food assistance through the program. About 45,000 people receive cash assistance.
The system was down from about 10:35 a.m.-12:50 p.m. Wednesday, 2:30-4:20 p.m. Thursday and 4:20-6:50 p.m. Friday.
"It does happen from time-to-time, but happening three days in a row is concerning to us," Wheaton said. "We have let the vendor know there’s people who rely on the cards to get food for their families, and this can’t continue to happen. They need to get it fixed."
He added: "We're sorry for the inconvenience people are experiencing."
Wheaton said Friday night that the vendor indicated the problem was finally properly fixed.
The outages caused headaches for people in grocery store checkout lanes throughout the state.
Jennifer Ferguson, 41, of Southgate encountered trouble on trips to multiple stores in the midst of this week's bone-chilling temperatures.
"We tried Wednesday, Thursday and Friday," she said. "Wednesday we went to Kroger and had a full cart of groceries. When we were getting ready to get in the checkout lane, they made an announcement that the system was down."
Ferguson tried an Aldi Thursday, but couldn't buy food then, either.
"We went to Meijer (Friday) and the system was still down. I was frustrated," she said. "You wait for the day that money is going to be loaded on your card, and you usually desperately need it by the time you get it."
Sean Collins, senior director of communications for New Jersey-based Conduent, said in an e-mail late Friday:
“Conduent experienced a service interruption. Availability of these services is of the highest priority for Conduent. All critical services were restored and recipients can access their benefits at accepting retail locations.”
The food assistance program is part of the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP.
In a statement Friday night, the USDA said such problems are rare.
"USDA's Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) is aware of the short-term outages over the past three days and is closely monitoring the situation.
Such outages are exceedingly rare, and at this time, all SNAP EBT Services have been restored.
USDA is committed to ensuring reliable access to SNAP benefits for participating families. We will continuously work with the EBT provider to seek information regarding root causes and corrective actions."
The full extent of the problem was unclear. News station WKBN-27 reported Wednesday that people in Ohio were having trouble using their food assistance cards.
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