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      Bridge cards: are people abusing the service?

      Michigan Bridge Cards help low income residents buy food, but what are the restrictions on the cards?

      There are actually several programs associated with the Bridge Card. In this story, we're talking about the one specifically for those people qualifying for food assistance from the state.

      Anyone can apply for food assistance benefits. On our Facebook page, Tina Tappy asked us: "How does one find out if they are indeed eligible?"

      Tina, you, or anyone else, should start with a visit to the State Department of Human Services.

      Need more information?

      But what most people wanted to know about are the restrictions with the Bridge Card. Well, it's intended for those approved for food stamps and can be used to buy food or seeds, for vegetables, for example.

      Not all retailers accept the card; just look for the Quest Logo.

      You can't buy items like soap, pet food, paper products, hot foods ready-to-eat, medicine, and no, you cannot buy tobacco or alcohol with a Michigan Bridge Card.

      Roughly a third of the customers at Jack's in Harvey use the card for food assistance. Like most other stores accepting Bridge Cards, Jack's relies on an electronic system.

      "The card keeps track of everything that they've purchased on our system," says Vice President of Jack's Foods, Mike Schwemin. "Our system is flagged with authorized items so that we don't have to separate it, the computer does, and at the end of the transaction, it will give us a total of eligible food stamp amount."

      Right now, there's no regulation on how much people can buy of an approved item.

      "There's only so much we can do. We have to allow people to make adult decisions on their own to a certain degree, but, again, we have to temper that with what's in the taxpayer's best interest," says Brian Rooney, deputy director of DHS and director of policy & compliance.

      So what about those who try to cheat the system or abuse the priviledge?

      "We are very interested in making sure that the truly needy get the benefits that they're entitled to, but we're equally concerned with making sure that those that are gaming the system...are investigated and prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law," Rooney adds.

      The Office of the Inspector General has uncovered more than five million dollars worth of food stamp fraud.

      Many of you also asked us about drug testing for those who get Bridge Cards. We currently don't have drug testing in Michigan, but that's being considered in Lansing.

      And there's been one other significant change recently.

      Thousands of college students were recently cut out of the program, unless they are fulltime students who work more than 20 hours a week, or they have a child under the age of 12.