Food Stamps for College Students

August 26th, 2011 by Andrea Bennett

Has Michigan swung too far in correcting public assistance abuses?

Brought to you by Liberty Mutual's
The Responsibility Project

An editorial in Michigan’s Grand Rapids Press lauded the state for cutting a “wasteful practice” that had been taking food from needy families. The new measure, it said, will save cash-strapped Michigan $75 million and stop huge abuses of public assistance. The move? Cutting off 30,000 college students from food stamps for which they had previously been eligible.

The decision followed a rules review by Michigan’s Department of Human Services Director Maura Corrigan, and it will put the state in line with the federal rule whereby only single moms going to school and students who work more than 20 hours a week qualify for assistance. “Student status,” which generally disqualifies residents in other states, was an exception in the Michigan program. Until now, the state’s permissive “Bridge Card” system – which are swiped like debit cards at grocery stores – had allowed students in a “valid employment training program” to collect the cards.

According to a Detroit News story, the state of Michigan had 10 times the volume of food stamp collectors as Illinois or California as a result of the loophole. Corrigan told the paper she thought it was time for students to get off the dole. “Maybe they could go get a part-time job – that’s what I did,” the former justice of the Michigan Supreme Court said. “We want to encourage people to be self-sufficient, not to be dependent on the government.”

But not everyone agrees that college students using Bridge cards have been taking advantage of the system. The Detroit News quoted Kayla Neff, a student at Central Michigan University, who said that she and her father share about $150 a month in grocery money from the program, and that it’s particularly difficult for students with little expertise to find a job in Michigan. Wayne State University student Mohammed Almihtar complained to MyFoxDetroit that the assistance had been so critical to some students that, “Maybe they’re going to have a hard time enrolling in school. That’s going to push the education back.”

Critics of Corrigan assert that state funding has shrunk and tuition has risen since she attended college in the late 1960s and early ‘70s.  Still, few would likely argue with the idea that the state should start investigating Bridge card users’ assets – not just their income – in determining their eligibility for the card. In May, a fracas began after news had surfaced that Auburn resident Leroy Fick remained eligible for food stamps and continued using them after he won $2 million in the state lottery TV show Make Me Rich! in June 2010.

What’s your take on the new rules? Is it about time? Or should the state have made a less sweeping change?