California's Electronic Benefits Transfer system to shut down for 24 hours this weekend

A sample California Electronic Benefits Transfer card.
A sample California Electronic Benefits Transfer card.

For 24 hours starting late Saturday, California Electronic Benefits Transfer (EBT) cardholders will not be able to use their cards.

The outage is scheduled to start at 11 p.m. Saturday and end at 11 p.m. Sunday. As the weekend approaches, the California Department of Social Services is advising cardholders to withdraw cash and buy whatever food they might need in advance.

The interruption is due to a change in the vendors that operate the EBT system.

The EBT program allows people in all 50 states to transfer their public assistance benefits to participating retailers to purchase items, and ATM machines to obtain cash.

The program is broad – there are over 2 million cardholders, and with one card per household, the services EBT offer affect more than 4 million people from diverse backgrounds. The first notice of the 24-hour outage, which came to cardholders by mail on June 4, came in 18 languages.

The timing of the outage was as strategic as possible, said Michael Weston, spokesperson for the California Department of Social Services. Because most EBT card transactions happen at the beginning of the month, the hope is that putting the outage on a weekend at the end of the month will mitigate the disturbance.

"We are trying to cause the least amount of inconvenience as possible," Weston said.

In addition to the EBT card not working at the over 15,000 business and 54,000 ATMs across California that accept EBT cards, the EBT website and the customer service telephone line will also be unavailable.