After some Ohioans and West Virginians loaded up their shopping carts with groceries and went to the checkout counters Saturday, they learned there was a problem: The food stamp program debit cards they were carrying didn't work.
It happened throughout Ohio, in at least some parts of West Virginia and in 16 other states, according to published reports. It seems the electronic processing system for food stamp debit cards issued in those states is operated by Xerox Corp. - and the company had a problem on Saturday.
Ironically, the failure apparently was triggered by normally routine tests of a backup system used by Xerox.
For some time, emergency procedures that differed from state to state - and, no doubt, store to store - were used in attempts to lessen the inconvenience suffered by food stamp customers. Many of the affected shoppers simply left groceries behind and went home.
Complex, sophisticated electronic systems sometimes don't work as advertised. Just ask the federal government and millions of Americans who tried on Oct. 1 to get information regarding Obamacare about that.
This failure had nothing to do with the government, however. The ball on this one landed squarely in Xerox's court.
Many states have agreements with Xerox to provide the food stamp debit card service. Because a truly effective backup system was not in place, the company did not keep its end of the bargain on Saturday. No one can say how many people were inconvenienced - and how many, having planned to buy food that day and perhaps with no money to purchase it otherwise - didn't eat because of the failure.
That is unacceptable. If they have not already done so, Ohio and West Virginia officials should contact Xerox to express extreme unhappiness with the error. They should add that while everyone knows mistakes can happen, failure to uphold contracts can have financially unpleasant consequences.