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Cuomo halts fingerprinting for food stamps

CYRIL JOSH BARKER Amsterdam News Staff | 5/31/2012, 1:01 p.m.
Cuomo tries to strong-arm state Ed Dept. and unions into agreement

Gov. Andrew Cuomo is getting praise over proposing legislation that would end fingerprinting for anyone who receives food stamps. He said that the policy treats the poor and hungry like criminals.

Cuomo announced plans to stop the practice in January and has followed through. New York has a reported 1.8 million people benefiting from food stamps, better known as EBT. One in six children in the state are living in a home without enough food.

The policy was implemented to prevent fraud and duplication of benefits. For years, advocates have said that the practice often stops people from getting the benefits they qualify for and need. Others have said fingerprinting treated the needy as though they were criminals.

"We thank Governor Cuomo for having the courage to end this counterproductive and discriminatory policy, which is essentially an electronic stop-and-frisk," said Joel Berg, executive director of the New York City Coalition Against Hunger. "The governor understands that ending child hunger is not only the compassionate, moral thing to do, but it also would have the very concrete benefits of boosting educational performance, aiding our economy, reducing health care spending and reducing poverty."

Fingerprinting, critics said, was also costing the state millions of dollars. New York City and Arizona were the only two locations that required food stamp recipients' fingerprints in return for benefits. New York stopped the practice in 2007, though it granted Mayor Michael Bloomberg's request to keep it going in New York City.

"Finger imaging identifies potential duplicate payments and prevents fraud, which saved more than $35 million over the last decade in a program that now provides services for 1.8 million New Yorkers annually," said Human Resources Administration Commissioner Robert Doar in a statement. "We remain committed to doing everything we can, consistent with state and federal regulations, to protect the integrity of the food stamp program."

The Urban Institute found that finger imaging deters eligible, law-abiding people from applying for benefits. One reason the process is such a deterrent is because it's deemed too much of a hassle, leading people who need benefits to not get them.

"It is also clear that one of the best ways to ensure that eligible families receive the benefits they need is to eliminate the wasteful, harmful process of finger imaging, which costs millions of dollars yet fails to prevent any program fraud or duplication that is not more easily and cheaply detected through processes successfully used in the 48 other states that do not finger image applicants," Berg said.