Clayton is charged with failing to inform the state that her income had changed as a result of the lottery prize and a job. She won a $1 million jackpot on the game show "Make Me Rich!" and chose a $735,000 lump sum, before taxes, last September.
"It's simply common sense that million-dollar lottery winners forfeit their right to public assistance," said Attorney General Bill Schuette, whose office filed the charges. The maximum penalty is four years in prison.
Clayton, the mother of a 1-year-old, is accused of collecting $5,475 in food stamps and public medical benefits over eight months until Detroit TV station WDIV broke the story in March. She told WDIV that she believed she could collect food aid because she didn't have a job at the time.
The amount of money is a speck compared with the roughly $250 million that Michigan spends each month just on food assistance.
Outside the court in suburban Detroit, defense attorney Stanley Wise said that he would ask that charges be dropped at the next hearing, May 1, when a judge must decide whether there's enough evidence to send the case to trial. He didn't elaborate on his strategy.
"They want to make an example of her," Wise said, referring to state officials. "She's offered to repay the money. They haven't even sent her a bill. If that were the only issue, it would be over and done. They have chosen to exploit this for their purposes, and we have to deal with it."
Clayton declined to comment after posting $1,000 bail. Wise advised her not to speak with reporters.