YEAR IN REVIEW #7: Bridge card requirements changed, harder for students to qualify


About 30,000 students throughout Michigan were rendered ineligible for food assistance by the Michigan Department of Human Services beginning in March 2011.

Requirements to qualify for Michigan’s Bridge Card food assistance program changed, making it more difficult for college students to receive the benefits.

After April 1, being a college student was no longer enough to qualify for the program. The change came after widespread criticism of potential abuse of the system by college students.

“In order to qualify for food assistance, a student must be working at least 20 hours a week or have a child under the age of six,” said Mark Stevens, director of the Midland and Isabella County Department of Human Services.

Previously, status as a college student could be a determining factor in the application for a Bridge Card.

The decision, made by the state DHS, was predicted to affect up to 15,000 of the 25,923 college students statewide receiving food assistance, according to a report by the Lansing State Journal.

“The decision was made to change the policy back to the old interpretation of federal regulation. The federal regulation required that students work at least 20 hours per week or be enrolled in a training program to be eligible,” Stevens said. “I think that the federal intent was that students would not be eligible unless they were employed or they had children.”

While public universities like Central Michigan University used to be considered training programs, the new interpretation does not acknowledge college education as such a program, resulting in the thousands of closed cases.

Michigan’s Bridge Card food assistance can provide up to $200 a month for recipients. Food assistance recipients who did not meet the requirements were cut off from receiving aid.

Stevens said 4,000 food assistance cases in Isabella County had been closed from March to April, most of which were student cases.

The Lansing State Journal reported Isabella County had the second-highest number of students on food assistance with 3,433, behind only Ingham County, which contains Michigan State University.