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WHERE'S THE SHAME? How employees and children could bear the cost of Louisiana EBT Walmart spree

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)
October 15th, 2013
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

Shoppers who went on a spree in two Louisiana Walmart stores could be lucky as the chain will probably be forced to accept the losses inflicted when it permitted hundreds of people to complete transactions with limitless electronic benefit (EBT) cards.

LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - For two hours on Saturday, shoppers in Springhill and Mansfield, Louisiana were able to buy all the food they could carry when a glitch in the Xerox system that manages the cards did not show limits for EBT recipients in the area.

As soon as some EBT recipients learned they could spend without limit, they went into a frenzy, clearing store shelves and some packing as many as eight to ten shopping carts full of food and checking out. Alarmed Walmart employees contacted the company's corporate offices to ask what they should do.

While some area stores closed, Walmart authorized the limitless transactions. After two hours of madness in which employees said the chaos was worse than any Black Friday, cards began showing limits again. As quickly as word spread, people with left overstuffed shopping carts full of food in the aisles and went home laving harried employees to spend the next day restocking.

The entire spectacle was an example of ingratitude and human embarrassment for those who participated in the virtual riot. The behavior of those who took advantage of the system is theft and the chaos they created, and then left in their wake for fellow members of their community to clean up, is despicable.

While responsibility for the display of human ingratitude is borne by the individual, Walmart also bears a portion of the responsibility.

According to the Louisiana Department of Children and Family Services, which manages the state's EBT program, Walmart had the option of calling a phone number to verify the spending limit on each card. Since they chose to simply check people out anyway, Walmart is responsible for its own losses.

Perhaps Walmart executives thought they could stick the bill to the taxpayers and profit handsomely by clearing their shelves. On the other hand, as we hope was the case, they chose to err on the side of generosity than deny anyone what they needed. The EBT program feeds millions of hungry families and although some people take unfair advantage of the program, it still provides for people in need, and the innocent, particularly children, should not go hungry because of a crowd of unscrupulous people in two Walmart stores.

It is also possible Walmart feared any public backlash should they turn people away.

Walmart now has a choice to make. Under the rules of the program, Walmart is entitled to the funds each person charged to their card, up to their limit. Beyond that, it's a loss. Although Walmart can legally request records of the transactions and pursue payment from individuals.

It is unlikely Walmart would do anything that would offend the local community, which is its customer base. It means the stores will suffer losses for their inventory; however it may be better to chalk them up to sunk cost than to waste more money pursuing dozens of shopping carts worth of essentially stolen product.

In the overall scheme of things, Walmart is a major revenue generator and the losses are insignificant in comparison to its annual revenues.

And so, that is how hundreds of people, recipients of EBT, are getting away with theft and Walmart is eating a loss.

Perhaps the most tragic result of this episode is yet to come. The individual stores may face pressure to recoup their losses, pressure they will accommodate by cutting hours or shedding staff. This will leave employees to bear the brunt of the offense, just as they had to on Sunday, cleaning up after the disrespectful mobs.

In a greater sense, the near-riot shows the ingratitude of some people who use EBT to make ends meet. It was a revealing episode.

Americans may be off the hook for the Walmart tab, but it leaves one to question how much recipients really need the program and if they are at least grateful for its charity. The question is reasonable because the entitlement mentality that was displayed on Saturday is disgusting.

That disgust may manifest itself in the erosion of support for social programs such as EBT, which feed millions of Americans across the country. Less support ultimately means more hungry people as benefits are always subject to political will and debate.

The people who took more than their share from these stores know who they are. The right thing would be to arrange payment with the stores for the essentially pilfered product. Yes, Walmart is wealthy and can afford it, but it should be remembered that the people who will really pay are the rank-and-file employees and future recipients of EBT. What is right is right, there is no moral gray area when it comes to theft such as this. These were not starving people.

Let them think on that as they fall asleep tonight with their cupboards ridiculously stuffed with more food than a family can eat.

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