Winning the lottery can be world-rocking, and it certainly was for Amanda Clayton, who scored $1 million in Michigan's state lottery last September, or a little over $500,000, she says, after taxes. But there are downsides too: Like jealous friends who are looking for ways to bring you down, as in tipping off a local TV station that you're still collecting food stamps.
Detroit's WDIV-TV followed 24-year-old Clayton, who bought a new house and a car with her winnings, into a grocery store, where she paid with a Bridge Card, issued to Michigan residents in need of food assistance. Clayton reportedly gets $200 a month from the state.
The reporter confronted Clayton, and asked her if she thought it was ethically right.
"Well, I thought they would cut me off but since they didn't, I thought maybe it was OK because I'm not working," she replied. When asked if she thought she deserved that money, she said, "I kind of do." She has bills to pay, and two houses.
"I mean, it's hard," she adds. "I'm struggling."
Clayton is the second Michigan lottery winner in less than a year to be caught charging groceries to a Bridge Card. Leroy Fick took home $850,000 after taxes from his $2 million jackpot, bought himself a new home and an Audi convertible, and called up Michigan's Department of Human Services to see if his Bridge Card was now void. It wasn't.
"He feels like he's paid into the system," Fick's lawyer said, since his client had just put over $1 million in the state's coffers.
Michigan lawmakers have spent the last year desperately trying to close this loophole. Since last October, an applicant was ineligible for food assistance if they had liquid assets of over $5,000 and a second vehicle worth more than $15,000 -- but then retracted the car stipulation. Other states, like Nebraska and Louisiana, have taken the opposite approach in the economic downturn, and eliminated asset tests, so that scores of the newly unemployed wouldn't be forced to spend their modest savings.
But few have sympathy for the food stamp recipient who was recently handed a six figure check. It's unclear whether they're worth all the energy though. As The New York Times put it in December, "as it turns out, millionaires on food stamps are about as rare as petunias in January." Perhaps Michigan is just having some freak weather.
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