Only two places in America still require fingerprints from food stamp recipients: Arizona and New York City.
While this isn’t too surprising from a state that practically had a ban on controversial Mexican-American books in one school district (no, really), it’s a bit odd to see something like this in the Empire State, let alone New York City.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo, in fact, has pushed for the elimination of the practice — which is now only active in NYC — so that more more eligible families will participate in the federally funded Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP.)
This prompted backlash from Mayor Mike Bloomberg: He claims that this policy shift would bring the state back to the “bad old days” before 1996, when the food stamp program was supposedly rife with fraud.
He said on his radio segment in January: “We forget how easy it is to go back to the bad old days when anybody that wanted to get subsidies, whether they deserved or not, just walked up and said I’m taking it,” he said. “You can’t go back to those days. … We’ve saved five million dollars this year alone because the fingerprints caught 1,900 people.”
But that hasn’t stopped State Sen. Daniel Squadon and State Assemblyman Keith Wright, with support from Public Advocate Bill de Blasio, from fighting for fingerprint-free food stamps.
Squadron has sponsored S740 (A5303), which would end finger-scanning altogether. (The Assembly version is sponsored by Wright).
The bill will be up for a Senate Social Services Committee vote tomorrow.
Squadron, who took a few moments to chat with Runnin’ Scared en route to Albany, says the bill will live or die by bipartisan effort, but is hoping he can get broad support.
“We’re hoping the Democrats and Republicans will come together on this,” he said. “That’s going to be the biggest challenge.”
(Runnin’ Scared just placed a call to Wright’s office, which says it will get in contact with us ASAP.)
Between January 2009 and July 2010, 5,958 households were denied or cut off from food stamp benefits “because they did not comply with finger imaging requirements,” according to an Empire Justice Center study.
And some estimates say that finger scanning has cost the state almost $30 million. If it gets through the (oft-lugubrious) legislative process, the measure would take affect within 180 days.
Bloomberg’s office forwarded us the official memo of opposition. Here’s the meat of the text:
“REASONS FOR OPPOSITION
Finger imaging technology has helped ensure the integrity of New York City’s overall Food Stamp Program, which serves more than 1.825 million recipients in the City every month and issues over $3.5 billion in benefits annually. The use of the Automated Finger Imaging System (AFIS) has particularly been successful in avoiding duplicative payments to recipients of cash assistance, food stamps and other benefits, whether due to intentional fraud, administrative errors, or other reasons. Data from the New York State Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance shows that, for New York City’s recipients of non-cash assistance Food Stamps alone, between 1998 (when finger imaging for non-cash assistance Food Stamp recipients began), and 2009, over $31.9 million in government funds were protected from waste. Last year, the simple process of finger imaging generated a savings of more than $5.3 million in actual and/or potential misappropriated benefits through a City investment of approximately $182,596 annually.
Finger imaging has not served as a barrier to the Food Stamp benefits received by 1.825 million New Yorkers. Since 2002, New York City has seen a caseload increase of more than 130%, and a 429% increase in the portion of the caseload who often rely on Food Stamp benefits as a work support but do not receive cash welfare or Federal Supplemental Security Income (SSI). These increases exceed the average increase, over the same time period, for the State’s counties and municipalities that do not use finger imaging – highlighting the speciousness of the argument that finger imaging is an impediment to access.
While New York City is responsible for administering the largest Food Stamp program in the State and one of the largest in the country, the enacted 2009-10 State Budget fully eliminated the State’s contribution. This has resulted in an even greater local cost. While benefits are paid for by the federal government, the City pays the lion’s share of administrative costs. Last year, we invested more than $217 million in administrative funds – substantially more than the $131 million provided by the federal government and the zero provided by the state. Prevention of waste and abuse, therefore, has a direct and positive fiscal impact on the City – not just the Federal government.
It would be administratively and fiscally shortsighted to end a program that protects the integrity of such a large and expensive government program and prevents the waste of taxpayer dollars, particularly in the current economic climate.
Accordingly, it is urged that this bill be disapproved.
MICAH C. LASHER
We’ll update tomorrow when we hear any news on the bill’s status.
Follow Victoria Bekiempis @vicbekiempis.