Department of Human Services Update
The Michigan Department of Human Services announced on February 9, 2011, that beginning in April college students will not be able to access food assistance programs, except in very limited situations. New director Maura Corrigan, a former Michigan Supreme Court justice, issued stated that the program and the use of Bridge Cards by college students has come under withering criticism in recent weeks as a result of Republican lawmakers questioning the use of the federally funded program.
The Food Assistance Program, commonly known as food stamps, serves almost 1.9 million Michigan residents, including more than 805,000 children. DHS administers this federally funded program and must follow federal guidelines for eligibility. Benefits are determined based on income, household size and other criteria, and can only be used to buy food.
Rep. Dave Agema (R-Grandville) last month became chair of the House subcommittee which oversees the DHS budget. At the time he declared that “fraud” by college students receiving food assistance was a top priority for him. Though Agema is not sure how many college students are abusing the program statewide, he said he fears the state is wasting millions of dollars annually to provide the aid to students who don’t need it. Bridge Card recipients use the card as kind of an electronic version of food stamps, and critics say students of well-heeled parents are using the aid to pay for food and using their spending money for booze and parties.
“It’s an epidemic,” Agema said Tuesday at a committee hearing. “You can get this just by (applying) on the Internet.”
DHS reports that in 2009-2010 between 10,000 and 18,000 college and university students were receiving as much as $200 a month in food assistance. Agema, a former airline pilot, has also made headlines recently for legislation he has introduced to eliminate the Michigan Health Fund Initiative and shift that nine million dollars into the Michigan Aeronautics Fund. He also introduced legislation to shift 80 percent of the state’s Natural Resources Trust Fund, which pays for parks and land conservation, to pay for road and airport improvements.
Nothing in what has been reported indicates that students have done anything illegal or fraudulent in obtaining Food Assistance. Current Michigan guidelines for eligibility clearly indicate that they are eligible as a group, though each individual would need to have a budget done on his/her personal income and living situation. In addition, 100% of Food Assistance dollars comes from the Federal government. It is unclear how this damages the economy of Michigan when federal dollars are being brought into the state.