Two million dollar lottery winner still on food assistance
Update May 19, 2011 1:50 p.m.
A local politician says he's taking action to fix the system that allows lottery winners to stay on food assistance. State Representative Charles Brunner sent the following statement:
BAY CITY " State Representative Charles Brunner (D-Bay City) is working on immediately closing an outrageous loophole that allows a Lottery winner from Auburn " and countless other Michigan holders of major liquid assets " to continue to use a taxpayer-funded Bridge Card. Today he introduced legislation and took other steps to end this abuse of taxpayer dollars.
"Although I keep getting different answers from different officials, one thing is clear: The state should have, and could have, done something about this abuse of taxpayer dollars long ago," Brunner said. "Most other states already have closed this loophole that gives Bridge Cards to individuals who have significant money in the bank. It is an absolute outrage that a safety net that exists to help people truly in need " and there are unfortunately plenty of folks in Michigan in that situation right now " has been allowed to be exploited and given a black eye."
Auburn resident Leroy Fick was allowed to keep using his Bridge Card, an electronic version of food stamps, after winning $2 million from the Michigan Lottery last year because the $850,000 lump sum payment he received is counted as assets, not income, in federal guidelines that determine eligibility for food stamps.
Brunner has been talking with state Department of Human Services (DHS) officials and is taking three main actions to end this abuse of taxpayer dollars immediately:
Today Brunner introduced a resolution in the state House calling on Congress to change federal guidelines so that states consider liquid assets when determining eligibility for food assistance.
He is demanding that state DHS officials immediately request a waiver so they can consider liquid assets when determining eligibility, regardless of federal rules. A state DHS official acknowledged in a Detroit Free Press article that at least 40 other states already have these waivers.
Brunner is also demanding a state investigation into how many other residents are using Bridge Cards despite having significant liquid assets.
"This fiasco is further proof that transparency and accountability are sorely lacking in state government," Brunner said. "I'm angry about it, and residents have a right to be angry, too, that this abuse of scarce taxpayer resources has been allowed to happen. I am doing everything I can to fix it and make sure that this money goes only to those who are truly in need."
Update May 18, 2011 5:25 p.m.
People are outraged that a local man who won $2 million is still receiving food stamps.
NBC25'S Dan Armstrong sat down with Leroy Fick and his attorney Wednesday afternoon. They say people's frustrations, anger, and outrage is misdirected.
Now, a local representative is working to change the law.
"I don't think I've done anything wrong. If the state has got a problem with its laws, they can fix them. They really should," says Fick.
Leroy Fick says he's perfectly within his rights to continue using his bridge card despite taking an $850,000 lump sum from the "Make Me Rich!" lottery game in June.
"If I'm eligible, I'm eligible. Right?" says Fick, who says he's disabled and not able to work. "I had injuries to my back quite a while ago. It keeps getting worse."
The Michigan Department of Human Services says lump sum payments are assets, not income, therefore Fick's situation checks out.
Fick's attorney John Wilson says, "He's been very upfront and told the Department of Human Services immediately that he had won this money, and they of course do their investigation and they told him he was eligible to keep his bridge card."
A local politician says he'll get to the bottom of this. State Representative Charles Brunner, whose district includes Auburn says, "It outrages me that a guy that has a brand new Audi, has a million dollars in the bank essentially, can still qualify for food stamps. That's wrong."
Brunner says he's taking immediate action. "I've already contacted the legislative service bureau to start work on legislation to change the policy."
Workers at the Auburn Food Center say Leroy Fick shops there. They say he's a nice guy, although Fick says someone there could have tipped off the media about him.
"They're just a bunch of busy-bodies. They've got nothing better to do than gossip," says Fick.
In the meantime, Fick says he's being crucified in the court of public opinion. "All this uproar, it's kind of made me an outcast. Everybody's going to be pointing their finger at me every time I go some place. I don't think it's right because I didn't do anything wrong."
Fick's attorney says there are other government programs, incentives, and benefits that people don't agree with, but that it doesn't make them illegal or wrong.
Fick and his attorney could appear in a national television program this week.
Update: May 18th, 11:50 a.m.
State Representative Charles Brunner has issued a statement about Leroy Fick being allowed to stay on welfare. He states, "there can be no excuses for state officials simply shrugging their shoulders and rubber-stamping forms when they see abuse of taxpayer money intended to help those who are truly in need. We have thousands of families all over Bay County who are struggling to find jobs, feed their families and keep their homes, and this guy has the nerve to cheat the system " but what's worse is that the state allows it to happen. I'm going to do everything I can to end this sickening practice immediately."
Wednesday, Rep. Brunner demanded that the State Department of Human Services change the police to protect taxpayer dollars from abuse. He says, "like everyone in Bay County, I am disgusted and appalled that the state would let a rich man take advantage of taxpayer dollars earned by hard-working people," Brunner said. "Residents have every right to be angry and outraged. The system is broken and it has to be fixed right now."
Do you agree with Rep. Brunner, or should this man be allowed to stay on welfare?
NBC25 spoke to the attorney of Leroy Fick, John Wilson of Midland. Wilson says he is speaking with his client this afternoon at 1:30 p.m. and will let NBC25 know if they will make any public statements regarding the story.
According to the report, Michigan's Department of Human Services says federal guidelines do not determine lump sum payments as income, but rather ongoing payments.
DHS is "aggressively pursuing opportunities to ensure that the state's limited resources are available to those who are truly needy," according to the Bay City Times report.
DHS recently reported it is cracking down on college students who were abusing the system.
Should this be legal? Leave us your comments below.