A woman in Michigan won $1 million from a state lottery game, but is still collecting state food assistance, a fact that is sure to open another front in the ongoing class war.
Channel 4 in Detroit tracked down 24-year-old Amanda Clayton after a getting an email tip about lottery winners on welfare. They followed her to 7-11 with a hidden camera to prove that she still uses a Bridge card (that the state's electronic version of public assistance) to buy groceries. Then tracked her down to her house, where she was packing up a U-Haul to move to her new home. The report which aired earlier this week is now making its way across the country, adding fuel to fire for class warriors who see abuse of the public trust everywhere they look. Naturally, the state House of Representatives in Michigan has already passed a law requiring lottery winners to undergo an automatic benefits check to see if they should still qualify for aid, proving no politician can ever resist the opportunity to "Do Something About This."
Clayton is not doing anything illegal, nor did she attempt to hide the fact that she gets $200 a month in food aid. She was getting assistance before she won the lottery, she still has bills to pay and she still doesn't have a job. So it's easy to see why she wouldn't run to Human Services to insist they stop paying her. Of course, some of those bills include a new car and moving expenses to her new second home. Clearly, she doesn't need her card anymore, but the obvious lack of financial savvy does not bode well for the future.
We find the story sort of amusing for two reasons: One is Channel Four's ridiculously hyped approach to storytelling, with hidden cameras, silly graphics, and the classic driveway "gotcha" moment. (The moral outrage of these public "Defenders" is always spelled out for the viewer rather than implied.) This is definitely one abuse of the system, but there's no indication the problem is widespread or that destructive. Makes for good TV though.
The second is the how quickly Clayton adopts the "I'm not really rich" attitude of one-percenters that drives the other 99 so batty. To not see the problem with connecting the sentence "I have bills to pay" with "I have two houses" is a stunning lack of financial awareness that angers people even more than the wealth gap does. It also explains why lottery winners — who often fail to turn their windfall into more sustainable income — become cautionary tales.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.