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Food Stamps Down at Many Commissaries, Here's What to Do

A nationwide problem at some civilian stores and commissaries alike means food stamp and WIC users may not be able to use their benefits and debit card users won't be able to get cash back.

Here's what happened:

On Dec. 7 many stores reset their systems like they do every day. The problem? This time the pin pads didn't come back on. A security certificate installed in the device in 2004 had expired, surprising everyone, including the company that absorbed the company that made them.

This was not a data breach. It was an tech support problem. And it had nothing to do with DeCA, other than it impacted them, too.

Some of the terminals could be fixed in stores. Some of them could not and had to be sent to the company. And since not all stores reset their terminals every day, those that had not been reset could be fixed before they went down.

The result? Commissaries nationwide could not process any food stamp payments, had to process WIC on paper and could only run debit cards as credit cards (so they couldn't give  cash back).

Commissary officials told us that only 40 percent of their stores are still having issues, and those are expected to be fixed by Christmas.

You can read even more about this over in my Military.com news story. 

We know that in 2013, the latest year for which information is available, commissary shoppers used $130.6 million in food stamps in the store. And while we don't know whether or not those people were Active Duty, retirees, medically retired veterans or Guard and Reservists, it doesn't really matter for this discussion.

You can easily see how December could be the very worst time of year for a store to not be able to process food stamps. Many families budget carefully this season so they can give gifts to their families, and their budgets may include that food stamp help. And since there are commissaries in locations where other, similar stores are quite the haul (Fort Irwin, Calif. comes to mind), you could see how "just go to another store" would be a difficult solution. What if the family can't afford the gas to get there?

Hunger support officials told us that if they need help to patch them over until their benefits can be used again at the commissary, families can visit local food banks. A list of those can be obtained from your chaplain, local service emergency relief office or by visiting Feed America's food bank listings.

Another option could be applying for an emergency loan through your local emergency relief office. This is exactly the kind of thing those loans are meant to take care of. Now would be a great time to get one.

Does this issue impact you? If so, tell us your story in the comments. If you have other resources for those who may be having problems with this, share them too.

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