Clinton Township sophomore Tamara Young is afraid of losing of her Bridge Card privileges.
“If my Bridge Card was taken away, to be quite frank, I would be devastated,” Young said.
This problem could become reality for Young and many other college students.
State Rep. Joe Haveman, R-Holland, is looking to severely limit who can obtain a Michigan Bridge Card, or Michigan Electronic Benefit Transfer, to prevent fraud.
Haveman, along with state Reps. Bob Genetski, R-Saugatuck, and Rick Jones, R-Grand Ledge, will introduce legislation to prevent abuse in the state’s welfare system which, they contend, includes Bridge Card abuse.
“Using this resource to buy beer, cigarettes, lottery tickets and even illegal drugs is an obscene abuse of the system,” Jones said in a statement. “Michigan is in a crisis and every tax dollar is very precious. As a state, we cannot afford to allow waste or welfare abuse.”
Gisgie Gendreau, director of marketing and public relations for the Department of Human Services, said the alleged fraud found in the 2008 fiscal year was $5.87 million.
“We take fraud very seriously and aggressively pursue allegations of fraud and misuse of benefits,” Gendreau said. “In 2008, for example, our Office of Inspector General investigated 3,310 fraud cases in the food assistance program.”
Haveman’s bill would require any student to provide extra information.
“If anyone wants a Bridge Card, they will have to prove through their tax returns that they are not a dependent,” Haveman said.
Haveman said dependents who are using Bridge Cards are, in effect, “double-dipping.”
The Bridge Cards are issued by the state Department of Human Resources, which closely monitors fraud, Gendreu said.
Young, who is claimed as a dependent by her parents, said Haveman’s idea would harm a lot of people.
“Things are bad enough already and for this politician to want to even think of taking away Bridge Cards, well, it’s a big slap in the face, because I am sure there are plenty of people in the same boat as me right now, if not already worse off. I’m sure this politician’s idea would leave a lot of people hungry.”
Haveman said he is sympathetic toward struggling college students and is in favor of Bridge Cards going to students who qualify for them, but believes that public assistance should not be a first course of action, he said.
“I lived off of $20 here and there from my parents in college and know what it’s like to struggle in college and the first few years out of college,” Haveman said. “But public assistance should be kind of a last resort.”