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State cuts lottery winner's benefits
March 8, 2012 at 5:21 pm #155567
TriciaParticipantMarch 8, 2012 at 1:00 am
Lincoln Park woman who won $1M continued to collect $200 a month in food stamps
- By Chad Livengood
- Detroit News Lansing Bureau
A Lincoln Park woman who won $1 million in the state lottery but continued to get food stamps has an unusual connection to the legislator seeking to outlaw what she was doing.
Amanda Clayton, 24, won $1 million in the lottery in September and until recently was still receiving $200 a month in food stamps to feed her and her two children.
Late Wednesday, the state Department of Human Services said Clayton is now no longer getting food stamps after department officials took her off the program.
Clayton's use of taxpayer assistance after buying a new home and car with her lottery winnings follows another case of a Bay County man getting food stamps after his $2 million pay day from the lottery in 2010. That prompted state Rep. Dale Zorn to get the state House to pass legislation last month that would throw large-sum lottery winners off the welfare rolls. Legislation is pending in the Senate.
"State assistance, our tax dollars, is meant to go to those who are truly in need," said Zorn, R-Ida. "It's not meant to go to those who won big in the lottery."
In a strange twist, Zorn is a distant cousin of the grandmother of Clayton's ex-boyfriend, Joshua Ormanian of Taylor, who says Clayton went on "an insane shopping spree" after winning.
"I'm glad the person who is fighting this is actually related to us," said Rebecca Lane, 68, of Taylor, whose maiden name is Zorn and recalls meeting Rep. Dale Zorn at a family reunion in Monroe County. "There are too many people who are legitimately in need and (Clayton is) definitely not one of them."
Zorn, 58, was unaware of the family connection until The Detroit News asked about it Wednesday and doesn't recall meeting Lane. But Zorn said he checked with a cousin and family historian who verified Lane is "indeed a long distance cousin," five or six times removed.
The legislator said he introduced the bill in October, nearly five months before news of lottery winner Amanda Clayton's use of food stamps went viral Wednesday on the Internet.
Amanda Clayton would not grant The News an interview, but was not breaking any law, said her mother, Euline Clayton of Lincoln Park.
"I'm not saying it's the right thing to do," Euline Clayton said of her daughter's use of food stamps. "But it's nobody's business if she's not breaking the law."
Amanda Clayton may have broken the law if she continued to accept food stamps after her income and assets exceeded the legal limit for assistance.
To qualify for food stamps, recipients must have income below a threshold. The state last year put in place asset tests for those on welfare and food stamps.
"The person in question hasn't been eligible for a long time," said DHS spokesman Dave Akerly.
A statement issued Wednesday evening from department Director Maura Corrigan said Clayton is "now no longer receiving benefits," but it was unclear when the action was taken.
"DHS relies on clients being forthcoming about their actual financial status," she said. "If they are not, and continue to accept benefits, they may face criminal investigation and be required to pay back those benefits."
After taking a $700,000 lump sum and paying taxes, Clayton pocketed about $500,000 and bought a new home and car, Euline Clayton said.
News of Amanda Clayton remaining on food stamps was first reported this week by WDIV-TV (Channel 4). In an interview, the single mother of two said she's still "struggling" after winning big on the Michigan Lottery's "Make Me Rich!" television show.
"I thought that they would cut me off, but since they didn't I thought maybe it was OK because I'm not working," Clayton told WDIV. "I feel that it's OK because I have no income, and I have bills to pay. I have two houses."
House Bill 5032 would require the Michigan Lottery to forward names of any resident who wins over $1,000 to DHS to be cross- referenced with public assistance roles, according to Zorn.
DHS can't track whether food stamp recipients have lottery winnings making them ineligible to receive assistance, Akerly said.
If the lottery winner is on assistance, House Bill 5033 would require DHS to assess the person's assets to determine if they are eligible for aid, Zorn said.
"Until the bill's passed, apparently it's legal, and people need to leave her alone," Euline Clayton told The Detroit News.
Zorn said he finds Clayton's claim she's struggling financially "very hard to believe," given she recently paid cash for a new car and second home.
"It doesn't seem to me that a person who can do that should be on assistance," Zorn said.
Amanda Clayton got on the "Make Me Rich!" game show after entering $10 worth of nonwinning instant tickets in the lottery's Instant Replay Contest, according to a state lottery press release. Food stamps can't be used to buy lottery tickets.
Euline Clayton said her daughter is "stressed out" from the international media attention she has attracted.
In a statement, U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Lansing., also called for federal legislation requiring states to prevent lottery winners from getting food and cash assistance. "At a time when so many out-of-work Michigan families are in real need of assistance, it's outrageous for people to cheat and defraud the system like this," said Stabenow, chairwoman of the Senate Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry Committee, which oversees funding for the food stamp program through the Farm Bill.
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