Special Report: Bridge Cards And College Kids

By: Lauren Zakalik Email
By: Lauren Zakalik Email

Twenty-one-year-old Joe Wisney is going to school to become a teacher. A goal great in theory, expensive in practice.

"I pay for LCC out of my pocket. I don't have any loans, so that's another $100 a month," he says.

Not to mention rent, utilities, food and some fun, running him hundreds of dollars a month with virtually no help from Mom and Dad. He says his state-issued bridge card, which gives him $200 a month for food, is his saving grace.

"If I didn't have this bridge card, I wouldn't be able to live in this apartment. I'd probably be living at home, commuting to school every day," Wisney says.

Besides being enrolled in school, requirements for a bridge card include employment, doing work study, or unable to work. The Deparment of Human Services says out of the 1.9 million Michiganders who used food assistance in 2009, a growing portion are college students aged 18 to 22.

"In fiscal year 2009, anywhere between 10,000 and 17,600 students were receiving food assistance. That's roughly less than 1 percent of all the money being used in that traditional category," says Edward Woods, DHS spokesman.

There's no doubt the face of the needy has changed in the past few years, and that now includes college students. But with nearly 18,000 college students potentially using bridge cards, some-- like Rep. Rick Jones-- say it's an abuse of the system.

"I was told by one student, 'My buddy said don't bother bringing anything for the tailgate. I have my bridge card, I can get all the food we need,'" Jones recalls.

Jones, (R) Grand Ledge, has been a vocal opponent of college students using bridge cards. He says he understands some students may have a legitimate need, but when he hears stories like these, he gets enraged.

"They get a card, there's $200 on it," Jones says. "They go out on the street and see how much they can get for it. Now they have cash-- they turn right around and buy alcohol, illegal drugs."

One Facebook group doesn't do much to help the cause. It's called "iI Love My Bridge Card." Its motto? "Feasting like kings, with more money for alcohol." It has a picture of kids posing with their bridge cards, and a link to apply for one.

"It upsets me because hardworking families produce the taxes that pay for these benefits," Jones says. "This isn't play money, it's taxpayers' money."

Woods says that's hearsay.

"We like to deal with facts. Is there a study? Or evidence that suggests those activities? To sit here and say they don't happen-- that's not true. But is it widespread and how often? We really don't know," Woods says.

For its part, Woods says Michigan de-qualifies more people off food assistance than any other state. And while DHS receives up to 1,000 reports of fraud a month, they take fraud very seriously. They have a team dedicated to investigating it.

"If we changed our policy or the way we do business for every alleged story we have, we would not be fiscally responsible," he says.

Wisney says he's heard the bridge card horror stories:

"I've heard some people go to Meijer-- they say 'I'll buy you $100 of groceries if you give me $50 cash,'" he says.

But he says he and his friends who use bridge cards do so out of need, not to abuse the system.

"I think that could ruin it for people like us."

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  • by Anonymous on Aug 15, 2011 at 07:20 AM
    Since entitlements have started in the USA we have seen the costs of things skyrocket. We must reign in our spending. Doesn't it seem odd so many who are on Bridge Cards are sporting tatoos and have money to drink. Most people in America do not know what real need is. We will soon be rioting in the streets like the youth of Brittan. Rampant greed.
  • by Anonymous on Aug 15, 2011 at 07:14 AM
    The state is following the rules of the obama administration.
  • by TAMMY Location: jackson on Nov 4, 2010 at 08:30 PM
    Ok I never ment directly towards your realitive. You come work with me one day and then tell me how you feel then... For instance today a women came in bought over $300.00 worth of food and then turn around and bought two other peoples food and still had over a GRAND balance. Whats wrong with this pics??? If you can afford to buy your child baby phat and all that expensive clothing and shoes you can afford to buy food go to walmart.... What happens if you get five college kids sharing the expenses of a home and each of them get 200.00 thats a grand there is no way they all eat 1000.00 a month worth of food. So they sell there food stamps for beer cigs and drugs. I am sorry but if you can afford to go to college you can get a job to buy food. I think the state should start monitering what they r allowed to buy just like they do for wic. There is tons of elderly and disabled that could really use it and not abuse it that cant get it.
  • by Steven Location: Concord on Nov 4, 2010 at 12:53 PM
    "You are not entitled to go to college AND pay for your expenses out of other people's taxes." What do you think scholarships are? Financial aid provided by private donors and (in some cases) public education budgets paid for by (you guessed it) taxes. I'm all for helping students get an education provided the system is not being abused. If the system is being abused then maybe tougher enforcement of the rules is in order, not denying benefits to those who are using their benefits properly and following the rules.
  • by Steven Location: Concord on Nov 4, 2010 at 12:45 PM
    I have to agree with Jen on this one. A persons economic status shouldn't cast them into a social class without the possibility of advancement. I lived in an apartment over 100 miles way from my hometown while attending college with two other guys who couldn't find work. I applied for a bridge card and used it to buy food for the three of us to eat for dinner. Then when I graduated and got a job I asked DHS to remove my benefits (which took quite a while for some reason). I don't see anything wrong with what I did and wouldn't hesitate to do it again!
  • by Jen Location: Williamston on Nov 4, 2010 at 04:08 AM
    Tammy, as sorry as I am that you are struggling, I feel it's unfair to simply state "get a job". You know what? My niece would love to do that but no one will hire her because when she was unexpectedly let go from her job, leaving her with no paycheck, benefits, nothing, she was four months pregnant which apparently made her completely unemployable to pretty much everyone. So, I ask you and anonymous!, is she supposed to starve herself and her unborn child to death because the state of MI has no capacity to follow up on and no tracking system to monitor nasty, vicious abusers who don't deserve and shouldn't have these cards? How altruistic of the both of you. Sadly, this is yet another disgusting case of "a few bad apples spoiling the whole bunch". Please just keep straight that there are people who need a boost once in a while, and have even paid taxes into the system they're drawing from; it's not just YOUR money. "Help your fellow man" ring a bell to anyone?
    • reply
      by Anonymous on Aug 15, 2011 at 03:31 AM in reply to Jen
      Family! There was a time when family helped their own. The didn't expect the nation to do the work that the family should be doing. If your niece needs help, then help her. I am busy helping those in MY family that need help. I can't help your family too.
  • by Jen Location: Williamston on Nov 4, 2010 at 03:50 AM
    anonymous!, it's not "living off other people" in some sort of leech-like sense. You're just further proving what an ignorant, close-minded, and yes idiotic type of person you obviously are. So I guess, in your so enlightened opinion we should let innocent children die in the streets without food or housing because their mothers ended up in abusive relationships and have nowhere to go because they're not "entitled" to basic needs? I don't think so. You are looking at this the wrong way, and have pretty much flown a HUGE flag on here screaming "I'm a Republican" (not that I'll insult ALL Republicans, but to most of them, anyone who sees fit to help others is typically branded that old, tired term "Bleeding Heart Liberal"). Yep, let's instead let poor kids rot in their low income neighborhoods with no way out, allowing those neighborhoods to deteriorate and decay, eventually turning every neighborhood like that into little mini Flints. What a bloody brilliant idea!!! Not.
  • by TAMMY Location: jackson on Nov 3, 2010 at 04:09 PM
    I tell you what people abuse the bridge card so bad!! Everyone not just college kids abuse it... Where I work I see it all day long. If we cut the bridge card and make some of these loser get a job, I bet we would be in soo much debt in the state. I work 40 plus hours a week and make min. Wage I have two childern and just barely get by I tried to get help with my 300.00 light bill and they told me I make too much money. HOW???? My place of work I see the abuser get out of BRAND NEW cars, gold all over. And they dont buy just cheap stuff they buy expensive stks and then buy there friends food also... I mean seriously come on get a job!! Know how it feels to struggle!!
  • by anonymous! on Nov 3, 2010 at 01:16 PM
    You know what Jen, you are not entitled to anything! It is not your right to live off of other people. Plain and simple. You can name call all you want if that makes you feel better but you have no right to other people's money/taxes!
  • by Jen Location: Williamston on Nov 3, 2010 at 09:07 AM
    Yo, anon, are you serious? I'm a single mom who will not be able to pay as much of my child's college expenses as I'd like, and I would like to think she could get help, like a Bridge card, to get her by while she's trying to better herself and gain a career out of her education. You have to be one of the most ignorant, ridiculous people I have ever witnessed posting here. A desire to attend college, when almost NO ONE can afford to pay for it out of their own pockets, should be applauded, and people should not be punished and unable to attend higher education just becuase they're not rich and can't afford to pay for it %100 by themselves. That's why there are grants and loans and scholarships. You are the one, IMO, who has no pride and morals when you carry an attitude that people should just "stay within their station", as they used to say-in olden times!!!! "Sorry, kid, you're too poor to deserve bettering yourself through higher education. Stinks to be you!!" You're an IDIOT!!!
    • reply
      by Anonymous on Aug 15, 2011 at 03:34 AM in reply to Jen
      People have been working their way through college for 100's of years. Sure, it takes longer to get done, but they have done it. Why do todays kids think someone else should pick up the tab?
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