Bill would end cash withdrawals, make direct payments for some living expenses and add photos of recipients to cards
In an effort to stop abuse of Michigan's food stamps debit card program, State Rep. Tom McMillin, R-Rochester Hills, wants state Bridge Cards to have photos and no longer allow recipients to take cash withdrawals from them.
Rep. McMillin introduced House Bill 5536 earlier this week with 12 co-sponsors. He said the technology is available to have the state make direct payments from the Bridge Card to landlords, utilities and child care providers while restricting food and clothing purchases to the basics.
He said those measures as well as a photo identification on the card would greatly reduce fraud and abuse and "ensures the taxpayer funded assistance is going to help out — not (be used) for filet mignon or designer clothes. It also makes sure taxpayer money isn't going for illegal drugs and other illegal or inappropriate expenditures."
There are an estimated 85,000 people in Michigan on Bridge Cards.
Last year, Gov. Rick Snyder signed legislation that required the Department of Human Services to check incarceration records and deactivate the Bridge Cards of people who are in prison. The legislation also requires the state to routinely check and see if recipients are on the U.S. Social Security Death Index database. Both practices were already part of DHS policy.
State Sen. Rick Jones, R-Grand Ledge, was involved in trying to end abuse of Bridge Cards in the past. Jones introduced legislation in 2013 after reports that Bridge Cards were being used at liquor stores, horse racing tracks and strip clubs. A state investigation last year found that a casino in Michigan took in $87,000 from Bridge Cards.
Sen. Jones said he would be supportive of the bill, but doesn't think the federal government would allow it.
"Do I agree with it? Yes. But DHS would have to call the feds and see if they would sign off on it. From my conversations in the past, they wouldn't," Sen. Jones said. "The problem is the feds won't allow most of that. The feds have to agree to it. They supply most of the money. Unless something is changed, they won't allow pictures on the card."
Robert McCann, spokesman for the Senate Democrats, would not answer as to whether Senate Democrats would support these Bridge Card reform measures. He did ask if there would also be a call for greater accountability for the "untold millions of dollars that MEDC hands out to corporations as well."
Rep. McMillin is running for Congress to succeed retiring Congressman Mike Rogers in the 8th District.
(Editor's note: Robert McCann, spokesman for Senate Democrats, responded to questions after the original story was published. His comments have been added above.)