EDITORIAL: Bridge Card reform long overdue, could cut too deep

When Lt. Gov. Brian Calley said Tuesday the new state budget would be an "atomic bomb," students probably did not expect their Bridge Cards to be carried off in the shockwave. But targeting the Food Assistance Program to trim the budget can be reasonable.

The recent decision to strike student status from qualifications could vaporize benefits for up to 15,000 of the 25,923 college students covered in April.

That the program, which is undeniably abused by many of its college-aged users, would be one of many to feel the shears on the path to a balanced state budget was not unexpected.

It is difficult to justify snatching taxpayer dollars to pay for fresh crab leg dinners for college students perfectly capable of feeding themselves from their own or their parents' funds.

However, the breadth, severity and immediacy of the cuts were a surprise.

It is heartening to see Gov. Rick Snyder willing to take serious action to bring the budget in line with reality, but changes to a program that provides a staple to 3,433 students in Isabella County alone should not be rushed.

While abuse was likely rampant, many students who take a full course load simply do not have the time to also work enough hours to pay for groceries. That is assuming they can find jobs at all when the labor market is flooded with unemployed workers with much more open schedules.

When parents cannot fill the gap because of their own economic concerns, something must be done.

Student loans and unemployment insurance can ease the transition, but there will at best be more debt or another battery of forms for students to overcome.

Greater stringency in the Food Assistance Program is not only needed, but long overdue. Unfortunately, the sweeping cuts coming to students' wallets in April are more akin to severing the arm to cure the infected pinky than the balanced spending reform Michigan needs.

Limiting food assistance only to employed students reiterates that this is, in fact, aid and not an allowance, but raising the bar to working 20 hours a week may be unfair. There are a number of students with on-campus jobs who work less than 20 hours, but still depend on food assistance to help support themselves.

If a student was approved for food assistance through this year and worked 19 hours, that student loses all their food assistance April 1, no questions. A more gradual approach, like allowing newly ineligible students to continue through their previously approved date, may be less problematic for those affected.

The program was excessive and overly generous, and needed to be reformed. While this sends a strong message on the part of the state government, a little further consideration could have made the change easier for those governed.


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