Michigan lawmakers last year vowed to crack down when they heard an $850,000 lottery winner was buying groceries with food stamps. Now comes news of another lucky player getting food on the public dime — and the Legislature still hasn't passed a law to easily detect and clamp down on the abuse.
"We were on this already but now we have two cases. I'm hoping it will hurry us along," state Rep. Dave Agema, a Republican from western Michigan, said Thursday. "It demonstrates the entitlement attitude we have in the United States. They want something for nothing."
Amanda Clayton, 24, of Lincoln Park, chose a $700,000 lump sum, before taxes, last fall after winning a $1 million jackpot on "Make Me Rich!" a Michigan lottery game show. A Detroit TV station approached her this week and asked why she still was using a debit-style card to make purchases under the food-stamp program.
"I thought that they would cut me off, but since they didn't I thought maybe it was OK because I'm not working," Clayton, a mother of two, told WDIV. "I feel that it's OK because I have no income, and I have bills to pay. I have two houses."
In a statement, the state Department of Human Services said it was Clayton's responsibility to report her dramatic change in wealth within 10 days. She has been dropped from the food program.
The state "relies on clients being forthcoming about their actual financial status," director Maura Corrigan said. "If they are not, and continue to accept benefits, they may face criminal investigation and be required to pay back those benefits."
Authorities have yet to announce if Clayton will face charges. The penalty for welfare fraud over $500 can go as high as four years in prison.
Clayton and her mother, Euline Clayton, did not immediately return messages seeking comment Thursday. Euline Clayton told The Detroit News that her daughter is "stressed out" from all the attention.
Clayton wasn't the first Michigan lottery winner to keep public benefits. Last spring, a TV station reported that Leroy Fick, 60, of Bay County, was using the food program despite winning an $850,000 lump sum prize in 2010. He told state officials about his wealth but was allowed to temporarily keep his card because lump-sum windfalls at that time were not counted as regular income under the program.
The state has since banned anyone with assets of more than $5,000, excluding a car, from the food stamp program. That ban knocked Fick off the rolls.
Members of the Republican-controlled Legislature said they would also require the lottery agency to notify the welfare department about winners. Nearly a year later, separate bills have passed the House and Senate but the work still isn't finished.
"We should have passed it last year," Agema, a sponsor, said. "It has to go to a committee. Then it has to be sent to the floor. It takes time — too much time."
As of January, more than 1.8 million people in Michigan — nearly 20 percent of the population — were getting food aid at a monthly cost of $247 million to the federal government.
In the "Make Me Rich!" TV game, won by Clayton and Fick, there are various games of chance with prizes ranging from $500,000 to $2 million. There are different ways to get on the show, including a drawing among players who have submitted non-winning lottery tickets.