By SHANNAN O’NEIL
Capital News Service
LANSING- Michigan Bridge Cards help those who can’t afford groceries, but now some lawmakers want to crack down on reports of cardholders selling them for cash.
The state House has approved a plan to charge recipients the second time they lose their cards. Some people who say they lost their cards have really sold them for cash and got another one for free, said Lindsay Vogelsberg, legislative aide for Rep. Bob Genetski, R-Saugatuck, who introduced the bill.
Selling Bridge Cards is only one way people have abused the system. Other bills pending in committee would prohibit putting money on the cards of prisoners and lottery winners.
A primary goal of this bill is to cut down on fraud, Vogelsberg said. There are people who sell their card for $20 when it has $50 worth of groceries on it, so they can have the cash for other things.
Approximately 600,000 Bridge Cards are reported lost each year in Michigan, said Dave Akerly, director of public relations and marketing at the Michigan Department of Human Services.
It costs the department $3.72 when a card is replaced at a department office and $3.03 when replaced over the phone, he said.
Under the bill, recipients would be charged about $4 for a second replacement card, Vogelsberg said. There would continue to be no penalty for a first-time replacement.
Not all the 600,000 cards were lost twice, but the agency estimates that penalized cardholders would save the state approximately $250,000. Akerly said the bill would need to be in place six-months before the department could verify savings.
This bill would help with some of the administrative cost but it’s not that large of a sum in terms of the state budget, he said.
Some states charge up to $25 for replacement cards similar to the Michigan Bridge Card, Vogelsberg said.
The bill’s fee is only to cover the cost of making the new card because lawmakers don’t want to force the state department to burden the cardholder, she said. People who really need the money for groceries can’t afford to pay a high replacement cost.
“It’s not trying to make money for DHS [Department of Human Services] at all,” she said.
The bill doesn’t alarm the Michigan League for Human Services, said Judy Putnam, the communications director at the League.
“We do think it’s important that we be good stewards of our tax dollars, we’re not totally against the bill,” she said.
While Putnam understands the need to meet administrative costs, she is concerned with the vague wording of how much the replacement actually would be, she said. The bill doesn’t specifically state the price, she said.
It merely states the recipient shall be charged, “for the actual replacement cost.”
Abuse isn’t as great as many lawmakers and others believe, Putnam said. Fraud is a big focus for a lot of people when it comes to Bridge Card when they should really be seen for the positive aspects, she said.
Only one-tenth of one percent of card holders across the nation were taken out of the food assistance program for fraud in 2009, according to the Michigan League for Human Services. In Michigan, there are only 5,000 reported cases of fraud in all assistance programs that the Department of Human Services provides.
“Most of the money is used for a good purpose and goes to help kids in need in our state,” Putnam said.
She doesn’t understand the argument that a $4 charge would stop someone from selling his or her Bridge Card. It’s just adding an additional burden to those who really need the help, she said.
“We shouldn’t have a lot of barriers in the way of getting help to our children,” Putnam said.
The bill is pending before the Senate.
© 2011, Capital News Service, Michigan State University School of Journalism. Nonmembers cannot reproduce CNS articles without written permission.
By SHANNAN O’NEIL