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I-Team Special Report: Bridge Card Abuse

Updated: Tuesday, May 20, 2014 |
I-Team Special Report: Bridge Card Abuse story image
KALAMAZOO, Mich. (NEWSCHANNEL 3) - The I-Team is uncovering examples of new  Bridge Card abuse in West Michigan.

We uncovered dozens of examples of people buying booze and cigarettes with their cards right at the store register.

Bridge Card food and cash assistance is supposed to be used for the essentials, food, clothes, and what a family needs to get by. But receipts show what's actually being purchased.

All of the junk food purchases are bad enough, we found a well-balanced shopping spree of Windmill Cookies, soda, Oreos and bags of candy. A $50 bill paid by food assistance on a Bridge Card.

But what really stands out,  all of the alcohol and cigarettes people are buying with a Bridge Card.

The same shopper with the junk food also bought Irish Rose Wine and a box of Newport 100's. Those two items weren't paid for with food assistance but we can see, the cash register just switches to cash benefits and accepts the Bridge Card.

Receipts were sent to us by sources over the last three months, and we see this happening over and over again.

Like when someone bought Pall Mall light menthols and Pall Mall 100's. That $15 dollars was covered by cash benefits right at the register.

We went to DHS in Lansing to find out how this is possible.

"They're clearly told it is a violation of the program to use those benefits for cigarettes or alcohol or anything like that. They're not allowed to do that," says DHS Spokesman Bob Wheaton.

DHS says Bridge Card clients know they can't buy alcohol and tobacco, but representative Peter MacGregor says it's too easy.

"We're trying to make it more difficult, we've changed some laws we've worked with the banks that provide ATM’s...you can't buy liquor, you can't buy lottery tickets with your bridge cards but we know it's happening, how do we prevent that," says MacGregor.

MacGregor is the chairman of the committee that oversees DHS’ budget. He's says he's already given them more money to investigate fraud cases like this.

"There's a lot of people who have a huge need, but we have to also make sure those tax dollars are spent wisely and accountability is a huge issue."

But DHS says the technology doesn't exist that could screen for banned items at the register and stop the process that makes it so easy.

And allows people to buy a cart of groceries and then Hot Rod cigarette tubes and Rio pipe tobacco.

Or to just buy a Natural Ice 12 pack, and Marlboro Special Blends, all paid for by taxpayers through the Bridge Card.

"DHS does take abuse of assistance very seriously we have people that investigate these types of cases and get to the bottom of them…for other people who receive and need assistance it should be available to them and not for people who are abusing the system," says Wheaton.

DHS says someone caught doing what we found happening could lose their cash assistance for a year, but for now Bridge Card holders are mostly on the honor system, and we can see how that's going.

DHS tells us the stores themselves are under no legal obligation to restrict Bridge Card purchases.
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Business News

Last Update on January 30, 2015 18:13 GMT

ECONOMY-GDP

WASHINGTON (AP) -- The U.S. economy slowed in the final three months of 2014 as a big burst in consumer spending was offset by weakness in other areas.

The Commerce Department says the overall economy grew at a 2.6 percent rate in the October-December period, down from sizzling gains of 4.6 percent in the second quarter and 5 percent in the third quarter.

Consumers did their part in the fourth quarter, pushing up spending by fastest rate in nearly nine years. But businesses investment, trade and government spending weakened.

For the year, the economy grew at a moderate rate of 2.4 percent. But economists believe 2015 could be a breakout year for growth, with consumer spending boosted by strong employment gains and falling gas prices. Many expect growth above 3 percent this year.

EMPLOYMENT COST

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Wages and benefits rose at the fastest pace in six years last year, a sign strong job gains could be forcing companies to pay a bit more for workers.

The Labor Department says the employment cost index, which measures pay and benefits, rose 2.2 percent in 2014, up from 2 percent the previous year. That's the biggest gain since 2008. It's also ahead of inflation, which rose 1.3 percent.

Yet the increase is still sluggish by historical standards. In a healthy economy, the index usually rises at about a 3.5 percent pace.

The Federal Reserve is closing watching wages as it considers when to raise the short-term interest rate it controls. Fed Chair Janet Yellen considers rising wages a key sign that the job market is nearing full health.

US-CONSUMER-SENTIMENT

WASHINGTON (AP) -- U.S. consumers are more confident than they've been since January 2004.

The University of Michigan says that its index of consumer sentiment rose to 98.1 in January from 93.6 last month.

Consumers say the prospects for the U.S. economy are the strongest in a decade, and half of consumers expect the expansion to keep going another five years.

The Michigan survey was the latest evidence that strong job growth and tumbling oil prices have lifted consumers' spirits. The Conference Board on Tuesday reported that its consumer confidence index climbed to the highest level since August 2007. And the Commerce Department reported Friday that consumer spending rose from October through December at the fastest pace in nearly nine years.

AMERICAN AIRLINES-PILOTS

DALLAS (AP) -- Pilots at American Airlines and US Airways have approved a single labor contract. That's a step toward combining workforces at the two carriers, which merged in December 2013.

The multiyear deal gives pilots a 23 percent pay raise retroactive to Dec. 2.

The pilots' union said Friday that the contract was approved 66 percent to 34 percent, with 95 percent of eligible pilots casting a vote.

TOYOTA-FATAL CRASH

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) -- A jury of six men and six women is continuing deliberations in a case alleging a 1996 Toyota Camry had a design defect that caused a fatal crash.

Jurors received the case late Wednesday afternoon and deliberated all day Thursday without reaching a verdict. They returned to a federal courthouse in Minneapolis on Friday to keep working.

The jurors must decide whether Toyota's design of the 1996 Camry had a defect that was unreasonably dangerous. If they find there was a defect, they must decide if it directly caused injuries to those hurt or killed when Koua Fong Lee crashed into another car in 2006.

Lee spent 2 1/2 years in prison before being released after reports suggested some Toyota cars had sudden acceleration problems.

GERMANY-BMW-SECURITY FLAW

BERLIN (AP) -- German automaker BMW says it has fixed a security flaw that made 2.2 million of its vehicles vulnerable to break-ins.

The company says the problem affected BMW, Mini and Rolls Royce models equipped with its ConnectedDrive technology, which allows drivers to access certain car functions with a smartphone.

German automobile club ADAC, which discovered the flaw last summer, says hackers could have used a fake cellphone base station to intercept network traffic from the car and lower the windows or open the doors. There are no reports such a break-in ever took place.

BMW spokeswoman Silke Brigl said Friday that hackers wouldn't have been able to start or stop the engine.

Brigl said the problem has been fixed with an automatic update and customers don't need to take any action.

POM JUICE-RULING

WASHINGTON (AP) -- A federal appeals court says many advertising claims for POM Wonderful juice were deceptive in asserting that it curbs the risk of heart disease, prostate cancer and erectile dysfunction and is clinically proven to work.

In a 3-0 decision, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit upholds the conclusion that many of POM's ads made misleading or false claims. The conclusion was reached by the Federal Trade Commission.

The ads appeared in national publications, on Internet sites, bus stops, billboards, newsletters and on tags attached to the products.

POM Wonderful LLC produces a number of pomegranate-based products.

RUSSIA-FINANCES

MOSCOW (AP) -- Russia deputy sports minister Yuri Nagornykh says his country's economic crisis is forcing athletes to scale back their training plans for next year's Olympics in Brazil.

Training camps abroad can be crucial in acclimatizing athletes for Rio de Janeiro's tropical conditions, but they are rapidly becoming unaffordable after the ruble lost almost half of its value against the U.S. dollar in the last 12 months.

Nagornykh tells Russian agency R-Sport that, with the ruble's value low and the Sports Ministry's budget facing cuts, athletes should stay in Russia rather than train abroad "in order to spend less of the currency reserves."

Officials will select priority sports and athletes for scarce funding, Nagornykh said.

The measures affect athletes for the Rio Olympics, and the 2018 Winter Olympics, he added.

OHIO STATE-ROYALTIES

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) -- The Ohio State University is cashing in after the Buckeyes' national championship victory.

The Columbus Dispatch reports the university expects a $3 million increase this year in royalties from licensed merchandise sales as fans continue to buy national championship gear and keepsakes.

Retailers say the team's special story has helped boost sales. The Buckeyes, who defied naysayers in their 42-20 victory over the University of Oregon, earned the final playoff spot after losing two starting quarterbacks to injuries.

Licensing officials also attribute increased sales to the fact Ohio State hadn't won a championship since 2002.

More than half of each dollar that comes into the school's licensing office goes to academic affairs. The athletics department, alumni association and student life program also receive portions of the revenue.

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