Governor Cuomo Ends Food Stamp Fingerprinting

Until last week, those individuals looking to receive food stamps had to endure a very critical, degrading and frustrating fingerprinting process that has been heavily criticized by policy officials, political figures and most recently, Governor Andrew Cuomo. The past few months have seen various verbal altercations between Cuomo and City Mayor Bloomberg, who argues for the process of fingerprinting, saying how the process limits fraud. Cuomo, on the other hand has been quoted saying, "We shouldn't treat the poor or hungry as criminals." One of the biggest factors in Cuomo's decision to alleviate fingerprinting altogether has to do with the efforts towards ending childhood hunger. Since almost half of all food stamp beneficiaries are children, boosting the number of eligible families who are able to receive food stamps would be an effective way to end the worldwide problem.

In the last year, there has been a record high in the number of food stamps administered throughout the nation and officials for fingerprinting concern themselves with the amount of possible duplicate food stamp cases. In 2010, fingerprinting detected 1,900 duplicate food stamp cases with 1.8 million people receiving food stamps that year. However, the city itself wasn't able to say how many cases were actually fraudulent. With that said, Cuomo argues that the amount of children living without enough food on the table should be incentive enough to get rid of fingerprinting. "For all of our progress, there are still basic wrongs to rights," he said, "1.4 million people who are eligible for food stamps do not receive them which leaves more than 1 billion dollars in federal funds unclaimed every year."

And so, last week Cuomo proposed that regulations would make New York City stop fingerprinting food stamp applicants. NYC, in addition to Arizona, was until recently one of the two states that still required such a process. Since the decision, there has been much welcomed feedback from other city officials including Joel Berg, the Executive Director of the New York City Coalition Against Hunger, who said "We thank Governor Cuomo for having the courage to end this counterproductive and discriminatory policy." Much of the judgement regarding fingerprinting stems from the stigmatization it provides, "When someone is hungry, all barriers to accessing food should be removed," said Bobbie Sackman, the Director of Public Policy for the Council of Senior Centers and Services, "removing stigma and ensuring dignity in applying for food stamps for the elderly is critical."

Cuomo along with others have argued by fingerprinting, the city is simply deterring thousands of potential applicants from even applying for food stamps in the first place. Furthermore, by not applying for the stamps, the practice of fingerprinting harmed the economy because those individuals no longer have access to local farmers markets, grocery stores and supermarkets. However, with the regulation intact and the practice albeit gone, the process of getting food stamps into the hands of the needy is still the number one priority. Now, Cuomo and his supporters have no doubt the abolishment of fingerprinting will have many concrete benefits, including boosting the educational performance of children, reducing health care spending and eventually, reducing poverty and ending child hunger.

Photo: Bram Cymet