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Michigan Fully Restores Food Aid To Thousands Of Bridge Card Users

LANSING (WWJ/AP) - The state has added money to the Bridge Cards of all the 85,000 Michigan food assistance recipients and families who temporarily went without the aid this week.

Michigan Department of Technology, Management and Budget (DTMB) spokesman Kurt Weiss said all the impacted cards had been restored and loaded with the food assistance benefit as of 11:22 a.m. Saturday.

The DTMB said the electronic debit cards weren't loaded with money on Thursday as expected because of a "human error."

"We do know that it was somebody, you know, it was an employee within the department, that we're working to try to find out why exactly this happened. So, the full investigation is not complete yet, but we are certainly going to complete that and figure out how to make sure this doesn't happen again," said Weiss.

Weiss said the error likely occurred when a vendor didn't get a computer file required to load the benefits.

Affected recipients have identification numbers ending in "0," "1," and "2." Reportedly only those ending in "0" are still waiting for the money to appear on their cards. The DTMB said the error affected about one-tenth of the state's 1.8 million food assistance recipients.

The average monthly benefit is $135 for an individual, $405 for a family of three and $675 for a five-person family, according to the Michigan League for Public Policy, an advocacy group for those in need.

Recipients typically know the day each month that money is added to their card and many time their first trip to the store accordingly. Almost 80 percent of food assistance dollars are redeemed within two weeks of being put on the debit cards.

"It's really horrible," said Amanda Brown of Ann Arbor, who was embarrassed to learn she had a small amount of change on her Bridge Card when trying to buy nearly $200 worth of groceries at a Kroger on Thursday. "It's just very difficult to wonder when I'm going to be able to put food in my house."

The 22-year-old stay-at-home mother of three boys - two of them 5-month-old twins - said the $582 she had expected for the month was still not on her card late Friday afternoon.

"I just keep calling and it's not on there," Brown said in a phone interview.

A phone line for Bridge Card users "exploded," Weiss said, with calls Thursday quadrupling from 3,000 in a normal day to more than 13,000.

"Grocers and retailers across the state who are servicing these customers are put in a bad situation because they are, you know, having to turn folks away and that's certainly not the position we want to put those retailers in and we certainly issued our apologies to those folks as well," said Weiss.

The Michigan Food Assistance Program is paid for with federal tax dollars and administered by states. About $2.9 billion in food assistance - once known as food stamps - was given to Michigan residents in the last budget year.

Advocates for the poor say the assistance is designed to help with some, but not all, of recipients' food expenses.

"In reality, what often happens is because families are so strapped any available cash is going to things like gas, child care, toiletries, utilities," said Terri Stangl, executive director of the Center for Civil Justice, a nonprofit advocacy group with offices in Flint and Saginaw. "A lot of households don't have cash left over to buy food."

Recipients of Bridge Card food assistance can call 1-888-678-8914 to obtain automated information about their account balance.

MORE: 'Human Error' Leaves 85,000 Recipients Without Food Assistance

TM and © Copyright 2013 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2013 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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