Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Getting the most with our Bridge Card Programs

This fall the members of the State House will be looking at ways maximize the benefit of the Bridge Card program with the introduction of House Bills  4721, 4722, 4723, and 4724.

These bills were introduced as a package of bills designed to curb fraud and abuse of the Bridge Card Program.  The Bridge Card program currently provides food assistance to many Michigan families.  One of the challenges of providing this hand up to families who need this assistance is also preventing fraud and abuse of the programs and protecting Michigan's taxpayers. 

Recent reports have highlighted some of the fraud that has been experienced including:
• Purchasing non-essential items such as lobster, pop, and junk food;
• Using ATM's to make cash withdrawals at inappropriate venues such as casinos;
• Selling Bridge Cards to other persons for cash;
• Persons remaining on assistance despite having warrants for their arrest, being incarcerated and having won the lottery.
• Disguising the card to hide the fact that it is a Bridge Card.

House Bill 4721 prevents welfare recipients with outstanding warrants from receiving benefits.  Lawless individuals on the run should not be supported in their efforts by the state.  Michigan Police Officers are working hard to track these individuals down, and taxpayers will no longer provide them safe haven.

House Bill 4722 prevents recipients from withdrawing cash from their Bridge Cards at casino ATMs.  Cash assistance is meant to help families in need find a way through turbulent times until they find work.  It is not meant to pay for parties at the casino or luxuries like alcohol and tobacco.

House Bill 4723 requires DHS to cut off benefits for currently imprisoned recipients.  There is no legitimate reason for prisoners to have Bridge Cards.  Cash assistance is meant for those who have no other means of making ends meet.  Prisoners have their needs met by the state corrections system and do not need Bridge Cards to pay for essentials.

House Bill 4724 requires recipients to pay for replacement Bridge Cards, after their first one.  Bridge Cards are often traded for non-essential items, undermining the purpose of the program.  Requiring participants to pay for their own replacements will help curb this sort of fraud and ensure needy families spend their assistance on the essentials.

Together these common sense reforms enable families to receive the help they need in times of hardship and also serve to assure the taxpayer that their money is being directed efficiently to needy families and not used for fraud and illegal activity.  Eliminating fraud and waste also leaves more funds available to families who are relying on the program and allows a much more responsible use of taxpayer funds.

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