Don’t fingerprint over food stamps

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In New York state, more than 3 million people are living beneath the federal poverty line. From 2007 to the present, that number has increased by 11 percent, according to federal census data.

More than 3 million state residents — one in six — now live in poverty, according to a survey conducted by the city Coalition Against Hunger, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture recently released a report showing a 56 percent increase in food insecurity among New Yorkers. At the same time, New York has one of the lowest food stamp enrollment rates in the nation, and fingerprinting requirements could be one reason why so many eligible New Yorkers are facing increased food insecurity.

In such an economic climate, we should be ensuring that the neediest among us have access to adequate safety nets, not demonizing those who are trying to put food on their children’s tables by requiring them to be fingerprinted.

While I share the Bloomberg administra­tion’s concerns with preventing waste in government, I believe there are better avenues with which to combat fraud. In addition, fingerprinting adds a costly administrative burden to an already underfunded program. In 2011, the USDA undersecretary wrote to states that “there are serious concerns that finger-imaging requirements may be a barrier to participation among many of the hard-to-reach eligible populations who wish to enroll in the [food stamp] program.” He encouraged states to find more cost-effective methods to root out fraud.

According to a study conducted by the Food and Research Action Center, analyzing data provided by The New York Times, in Queens alone 11 percent of residents were enrolled in the SNAP program in 2009, while almost 17 percent of the population was found to be under 125 percent of the poverty rate.

In real numbers, that means more than 262,587 were receiving SNAP benefits, although more than 381,612 people were eligible for the program. Thanks to Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s pledge to add an extra $1 million to a food stamp outreach program, I hope we can close that gap.

On a weekly basis, my office responds to constituent concerns regarding food stamp applications. Many people are eligible for the program and do not realize it. Other eligible applicants are ashamed to admit they need help. It is time to get rid of the stigma that fingerprinting requirements reinforce.

We cannot afford to let our children go hungry or let food insecurity become a dominating factor in the everyday lives of New York’s residents. It is time to stop the practice of fingerprinting for food stamps in New York City.

David Weprin

State Assemblyman

(D-Little Neck)

Posted 12:14 am, February 16, 2012
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Reader feedback

taxed from USA says:
"We cannot afford to let our children go hungry ..."
It is the parents responsibility to feed their kids, not the taxpayers, not the governments.
Feb. 21, 2012, 1:44 pm
John from Depew says:
So what exactly do you propose then if no fingerprinting? I believe its being used in Cali right now and its working fairly well.
Feb. 22, 2012, 9:11 am
Joel from Park Slope says:
Actually, John, both California and texas recently eliminiated finger imaging applicants, because it was such a waste of money. A cheaper, more effective method is conducting computer matches of social security numbers
Feb. 22, 2012, 3 pm
Maureen from Sunnyside says:
Fingerprinting for food stamps was ended in Cali last year because it was too expensive. There are other methods for catching potential cheats - like running database searches for duplicate social security numbers. At this point only NYC & the state of Arizona use fingerprinting - no good reason for us to continue.

I agree with Assemblyman Weprin - we can't afford to let children go hungry. We can't deprive our kids of food just because their parents are poor.
Feb. 22, 2012, 5:04 pm
Libby S. from NYS says:
I received a letter this Tuesday, informing me that my meager foodstamp benefits (the only public assistant benefit I have ever requested or accepted when offered, with all my human dignity checked at the door) has been terminated because I did not show up to have my fingerprints taken upon request. I saw these requests as being unconstitutional, fully aware of my 4th Amendment rights and having studied basic civil law, and refused to allow my rights to be violated. I assumed NYS was well aware that it had no authority to demand my biomentric data, and that the requests would simply go away when I did not comply. Instead, I have been denied my food sustenance because of a supposed "deterrent against fraud" when, obviously, those who try to beat the system have no problems whatever with providing their true identities--they simply lie about their resources and claim a true need, living like parasites off of funding the rest of us truly need (while enjoying a life of their mansion residence?). So to NYS, who believes its cleverness will deter criminal behavior, I will confess I have spent the last 2 days without food and, in my hunger, have actually begun to contemplate crime as a way to feed myself. -A college educated adult with plenty of job skills and no a land where the wealthy are bailed out, and 9 Trillion dollars can magically "disappear" at will from a high tech, high security, Federal Reserve Bank.
Feb. 23, 2012, 1:57 am
Veronica from Little Neck says:
Fingerprinting is being implemented not only to catch potential cheats but also to verify if the applicant is not a criminal. Why should taxpayers support felons and crooks is beyond me. People should also be required to pass drug tests if they want to receive public assistance.
And to you, Libby S, if you really think that your rights are being violated, don't seek government assistance. Threre are various jobs that require applicants to be fingerprinted (are their right being violated???) If these people get fingerprinted to work and pay taxes that in turn go out to pay for your food stamps, you should be fingerprinted as well. If you are so smart as you claim, get a job.
And people who are too poor to feed their kids, maybe they simply shouldn't have any.
Children are a huge responsibility, and their well being should not be compromised because parents can't support them. Don't bring children to this world and expect handouts and freebies from me and other taxpayers. I have my own family to worry about.
Feb. 25, 2012, 9:06 am
Pattie from Little Neck says:
No reason not to fingerprint and to check social security numbers. Need to catch cheats, criminals with outstanding warrants, etc. You do not have a right to free food, it is a priviledge.
March 1, 2012, 12:20 pm
David McNally from New York State says:
AARP thanks Assemblyman Weprin on his leadership and commitment to eliminating fnger imaging for working families and children when applying for food stamps. We strongly believe finger imaging policy should eliminate this process for all food stamps applicants including older
New Yorkers.

According to the New York City Department for the Aging, nearly one in four New Yorkers age 60 living at home are considered nutritionally at risk. The New York City Coalition Against Hunger reports that food pantry use among older adults is up alarmingly. In addition, the national Food Research and Action Center reports that over half of the older New Yorkers who are eligible for Food Stamps are not receiving them.

Originally designed to reduce duplication of benefits, this policy (used by only two government entities in the entire country) has directly resulted in hundreds of households being denied the SNAP / Food Stamps benefits they are entitled to according to a recent report released by Empire Justice Center, “Time to Leave Finger Prints Behind.” The report documented how the finger imaging policy has repeatedly and unnecessarily left families most at risk – those with children, elderly, and disabled individuals – without desperately needed food assistance.

There is no doubt that this requirement deters needy, law-abiding New Yorkers from applying for help and deprives the state of millions of dollars in federal nutrition aid. Eliminating finger imaging for all New Yorkers regardless of age or family status would increase access, greatly reduce stigma, and break down barriers to enrollment.
March 7, 2012, 1:58 pm
Bob from Yonkers says:
Fingerprinting for nutritional benefits is not only clearly a rights violation--it is also simply an inhumane practice. And for any who think it's a "choice," what would you do if someone came up and pointed a gun to your head, threatening your life, and demanded your wallet? You obviously would not be "choosing" to give your wallet away. Your life was at risk. Forcing someone to give up their rights with the threat of taking away their nutritional sustenance is akin to threatening a person's life--we cannot, any of us, live without food. The practice is not just sneaky--it is a disgusting act of cowardice by an increasingly abusive, broken government, harassing and treating the needy in increasingly deplorable ways. Shame on the U.S. for its continued abuses on its citizens. There is no justification for this practice, under any guise of catching cheats--this is clearly lawless profiling of the needy. I would not want anyone to be able to access my fingerprints, and am against such a blatant abuse of others, regardless of who they are. I've lived an honest, straight life so I don't have to have my fingerprints in anyone's filing cabinet or profile program. Unless there is a logical justification (ie, working with kids, guns, driving an armored truck, etc) no one has the right to demand that I give up my own rights. Don't let anyone tell you otherwise. Any number of errors and abuses can and do often occur with unnecessary fingerprinting (if you are not informed, please google all the cases of abuse against innocent civilians due to fingerprinting errors on your own). Not needing the program ourselves is a poor excuse for a lack of compassion for our fellows. Everyone's taxes pay into the program--not just your own. Recipients (a large majority being the elderly and disabled) often pay a lifetime of taxes before circumstances force them to ask for help and get temporary or even longer term aid from that same pool. Personally, I'd rather know the gov is spending the tiniest fraction of a percent of my taxes on the needy --and not just on bombing folks overseas and in bailing out millionaires back home (seriously, aren't you more concerned about that? Jesus...) Be thankful for your bounty without the arrogance. One day, it could be you. Have enough sense to be mindful.
May 11, 2012, 1:44 am

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