Using a state-issued Bridge card to buy a bottle of pop would be prohibited under a bill introduced this week by an Upper Peninsula lawmaker.
The measure is two-fold: To keep people healthier and to weed out those who buy cases of cheap pop and use bottle return money for restricted items, the bill's sponsor says.
“There are people who buy a case of pop, take it to the parking lot, dump it and return the empties for cash and go and buy heroin,’’ said state Rep. Beau LaFave, R-Iron Mountain.
“I feel for people who are struggling and need assistance to survive,’’ he said. “Nobody in this great state should starve. But we’re giving people an economic incentive to buy pop instead of water because they are getting cash at the end of the day.’’
The two-page bill, introduced this week, isn’t a shoo-in. LaFave says the federal government has to provide a waiver that lets the state prohibit Bridge card recipients from using food assistance benefits for pop.
“Stopping the sales is contingent on getting the federal waiver,’’ LaFave said. “I’m not willing to risk millions and millions of federal assistance dollars on soda pop.’’
A Michigan Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT), or Bridge card, provides food assistance for eligible low-income families and individuals. In addition to food, it can be used to buy bottled water, some energy drinks as well as soda. Alcohol and tobacco products are off-limits.
LaFave says he knows of instances in his Upper Peninsula district where Bridge card holders buy cases of Shasta pop at 25 cents a can, dump out the pop and turn in the empties for cash.
“This is an abuse of the system,’’ he said. “President Donald Trump spoke about waste, fraud and abuse, and this is an example of it.’’
House Bill 4278 has been referred to the Committee on Families, Children and Seniors.