PITTSBURG -- When Jeff Brown was ready to pay for his groceries at the Pittsburg Walmart with his food stamp debit card, he ended up walking away from the transaction after a clerk incorrectly told him the store would not waive the required 10 cents fee for a paper bag.

"They said it's our policy and there is nothing we can do about it. ... It's just one of these little things in life that just stuck in my craw," said Brown, a Pittsburg resident, adding it had happened twice in the last week or so when he shopped at the store on Loveridge Road.

Brown said he knew about the exemption and wonders how many other food stamp debit card users ended up paying for paper bags that are supposed to be provided to them at no charge.

The Pittsburg ordinance, which went into effect Jan. 15, requires retailers to charge other customers who do not bring their own bags 10 cents for a paper bag. But under a state law, shoppers who use food stamp (EBT) or Women, Infant and Children (WIC) debit cards to pay for groceries are exempt from having to pay for paper bags in cities that pass ordinances banning single-use paper bags.

"Any additional fees we cannot impose on those individuals," said Laura Wright, an administrative officer in Pittsburg who authored the ordinance approved by the City Council last October. "It's no different than other Walmart stores would be facing Alameda (County) and other places because of the state requirement."

Wright said she has received only one complaint about the waiver not being applied.

It's up to the worker to decide on whether the paper bag charge gets waived, Patricia Noriega said on Tuesday in the store's parking lot.

"It just depends on the cashier and whether they want to say anything about it," said Noriega, a Pittsburg resident who was with a friend who used a food stamp debit card to buy groceries.

The cashier gave her friend a couple of free paper bags after he paid 50 cents for two reusable blue Walmart bags. "I told her he was using food stamps, so (he) doesn't have to pay for the bags," she said.

Still, other shoppers who used EBT or WIC debit cards on Tuesday were not charged for paper bags.

In an email, Walmart spokeswoman Rachel Wall said that a customer's payment method at the cash register prompts the appropriate bag charge or exemption.

"We'll continue to train our associates to ensure we are in compliance with the program as it is written," she wrote. "Any customer who paid with (an EBT or WIC) card and was charged for a paper bag is encouraged to bring in that receipt for a refund and we apologize for any inconvenience this may have caused. We will continue to offer reusable shopping bags for purchase at our Pittsburg and area stores as an alternative to paper and plastic bags.

Elizabeth Kirk, of Antioch, said she was in the Pittsburg Walmart after the plastic bag ban went into effect last month and saw a man with a food stamp debit card walk away from a huge purchase of groceries after the cashier declined to waived the 10 cent paper bag charge.

"He was" upset, Kirk saying that workers had to return many items to the shelves."When they first did it, they charged everyone for bags."

Pittsburg is the first East Contra Costa city to pass a plastic-bag ban. Brentwood and Oakley are considering bans, while Antioch is not. In June, Richmond became the first Contra Costa city to do so, followed by El Cerrito in August.

Contact Eve Mitchell at 925-779-7189. Follow her on Twitter.com/eastcounty_girl.