Recent $2M Jackpot Winner Leroy Fick Still Uses Equivalent of Food Stamps for Groceries; Some Aim to Disqualify Him

Mich.'s Bridge Card program based on income, not assets like lottery winnings.

ByABC News
May 18, 2011, 4:23 PM

May 18, 2011 — -- Leroy Fick hit the jackpot.

The Michigan man won $2 million in the state lottery's "Make Me Rich" contest last June.

With the $850,000 he took home after taxes, Fick, 59, used his winnings to purchase a new home and a used Audi convertible. But to buy groceries, this lottery winner is still using his Bridge Card, Michigan's version of food stamps.

How can a man who won millions in the lottery still use food stamps? His lawyer says it is perfectly legal.

"He's not trying to cheat the state," said Fick's attorney, John Wilson. "Based on his income, he's eligible."

In fact, Fick said he contacted Michigan's Department of Human Services after his lottery win to ask if he could still use his Bridge Card.

"They said I could go ahead and keep the Bridge Card if I wanted to," said Fick.

So, he did.

"He specifically called the Department of Human Services and said, 'Can I still use the Bridge Card?' and they said, 'Yes,' because he is eligible," said attorney Wilson. "He's done everything right in the eyes of the law."

Michigan uses federal guidelines that base eligibility for food stamps solely on income. Fick's attorney said his client is unemployed and lives on Social Security disability benefits, so his income qualifies him for the Bridge Card.

The $850,000 lump sum lottery payment is considered an asset -- not income. So, under state policy, Fick can legally get food stamps -- even if he has hundreds of thousands of dollars in the bank.

"This angers me. It really makes me angry," said Rep Charles Brunner, who represents Fick's hometown of Auburn in Michigan's 96th District.

He is one of a number of lawmakers in a state battered by high unemployment and a whopping budget deficit now fuming over Michigan's lottery loophole.

"The thing that really bothers me is [that] in our state we have so many people out of work ... so many people in need of assistance, and for a lottery winner to get food stamps" is unfair, Brunner said. "If it's a glitch in the law, we've got to fix it now."

Today, Brunner introduced legislation in the Michigan House of Representatives calling for the state to factor in the assets of food stamp applicants, not just their income.

Lawmakers are now scrambling to close that loophole.

"We are actively seeking a change to the food assistance policy to see that only those who are truly [in] need qualify," said Gisgie Gendreau, a spokeswoman for Michigan's Department of Human Services.

Fick's attorney said his client will stop using his Bridge Card if Michigan changes its policy, and doesn't feel bad about using the taxpayer funded program because Fick just paid more than $1 million of his lottery winnings in state taxes.

"He feels like he's paid into the system," Wilson said.

Even though his client won more money than many people earn in a lifetime, Wilson said Fick is not living like a millionaire.

"He lives a simple life," Wilson said. "He doesn't even have the Internet."