News - Local Detroit

$2M Michigan lottery winner defends use of food stamps

Ron French, Detroit News staff writer

A Michigan man who won $2 million in a state lottery game continues to collect food stamps 11 months after striking it rich.

And there's nothing the state can do about it, at least for now.

Leroy Fick, 59, of Auburn won $2 million in the state lottery TV show "Make Me Rich!" last June. But the state's Department of Human Services determined he was still eligible for food stamps, Fick's attorney, John Wilson of Midland, said Tuesday.

Eligibility for food stamps is based on gross income and follows federal guidelines; lottery winnings are considered liquid assets and don't count as income. As long as Fick's gross income stays below the eligibility requirement for food stamps, he can receive them, even if he has a million dollars in the bank.

Food stamps are paid for through tax dollars and are meant to help support low-income families.

"If you're going to try to make me feel bad, you're not going to do it," Fick told WNEM-TV in Saginaw on Monday.

Wilson said Fick told the DHS officials he'd won $2 million but was told he could keep using the Bridge Card issued to him to buy groceries.

Fick could not be reached for comment Tuesday.

Al Kimichik, director of the office of inspector general for DHS, said the department could not comment on individual cases but that it this week began the process of requesting a waiver from the federal government to close the lottery loophole. If it is granted, assets would be counted in determining food stamp eligibility.

Though the food stamp program is federal and states must follow U.S. guidelines, states sometimes request waivers of rules. Michigan was granted a waiver recently to stop college students from qualifying for food stamps.

"For Leroy Fick to continue to use a Bridge Card, paid for by the taxpayers, after winning the lottery, is obscene," said Sen. Rick Jones, R-Grand Ledge. "What a waste of taxpayer money."

Jones contacted DHS officials Monday about Fick's case, and was told the department's hands were tied by federal regulations.

"There is no liquid asset requirement for getting food stamps," Jones said. "The department is asking the federal government for an immediate change (in policy). They're hoping this case will help the federal government act."

Until then, Fick can collect food stamps and keep his lottery winnings in the bank.

"I am not going to sit and debate the ethics of this," Wilson said. "But from his standpoint, he did what he was supposed to do -- he informed the state, and the state said he could keep using the card. The problem is with the state."

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