Bridge Cards are supposed to be used to help the poor buy food and necessities. That is not something you usually do at a casino.
That is the type of logic behind legislation passed unanimously in the Michigan House Wednesday.
“It is common-sense legislation that should have been passed a long time ago,” said Representative Kurt Heise, a Republican from Plymouth.
Rep. Heise is on the Children, Families, and Seniors Committee. It introduced several bills addressing Bridge Card fraud.
According to Michigan's Department of Human Services, "Instead of paper food stamps and paper checks, Department of Human Services (DHS) clients are issued a debit card to purchase food products and access cash benefits." That debit card is the Bridge Card.
The bills wouldn’t just make it illegal to use a bridge card at a casino ATM. They ban the use of the cards to buy alcohol, tobacco, or lottery tickets, and give the Michigan Department of Human Services new powers.
“Right now felons in prison can get Bridge Cards,” said Heise. “That makes no sense at all.”
If this legislation becomes law, DHS would be able to work with Michigan State Police and other agencies to find out if bridge card users are in prison, jail, or wanted by police. Inmates and absconders would be kicked off assistance. This would prevent the state from using taxpayer money to help criminals on the run or in custody get by.
Some have voiced concerns that this change could hurt the children of inmates or criminals. Rep. Heise insists that is not the case.
“We’re not taking money away from kids,” he said.
Heise says the person caring for children while a parent is in custody would have the ability to file for aid for that child.
Bridge Card fraud is a huge problem. According to a state report, in 2009, the state busted people using the cards to steal more than $18 million. That is just the fraudulent activity caught by investigators. It is estimated that millions more taxpayer dollars are lost every year.
Several other bills are before the House that could further tighten restrictions on bridge card use in an effort to crack down on fraud.
“We are not taking it away from people who really need it,” said Rep. Heise. “We are making sure there is enough money for those who need it.”
For now, these bills head to the Senate where they are expected to easily pass there. The Governor would then have to sign them into law.
Action News wants you to weigh in on this issue. Have you witnessed fraud? Are these changes enough to stop it? What changes do you want to see? Leave your comments below to make your voice heard.
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