Gov. Says Policy Deterred Eligible Applicants
New York State will end the finger imaging requirement for all food stamp applicants and recipients, helping simplify the application process and removing a barrier to reducing hunger among the state’s children and adults, Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced.
Statewide, one in six children live in homes without enough food on the table. Yet 30 percent of New Yorkers eligible for food stamps-over 1.4 million people-do not receive them, leaving over $1 billion in federal funds unclaimed every year.
In his 2012 State of the State message, Cuomo pledged to increase participation in the food stamp program, including removing barriers to participation and eliminating stigmas associated with the program. Eliminating the finger imaging requirement will make it easier for additional New Yorkers in need to apply for food stamp benefits, according to Cuomo.
“There is never an excuse for letting any child in New York go to bed hungry,” Cuomo said. “For too long, requiring finger imaging from those eligible for food stamp benefits has created an unnecessary barrier to participation in the program, causing a negative stigma and keeping food off the table for those in need. By removing this barrier, additional New Yorkers in need will be able to access the benefits they deserve without having to submit to this unneeded and burdensome requirement.”
Cardinal Timothy Dolan added, “Our Judeo-Christian heritage teaches us that when poor people in our midst seek help, we don’t view them with immediate suspicion. We don’t humiliate them; we help them. The message being sent today is that in New York State, there is no shame in needing a helping hand for yourself or for your children. Be assured of my gratitude and my continued prayers.”
As noted, finger imaging has been a known deterrent to participation in the Food Stamp Program due to the negative connotations, including the perceived implication of criminality. Also finger imaging can be an impediment to employment and child care because parents may have to take time off from work and obtain additional child care coverage in order to complete the requirement.
Before the governor’s action, New York and Arizona were the only two states in the country to impose this requirement.
Removing barriers to food stamp enrollment-including reducing the use of finger imaging-can have a positive economic impact on New York, the governor’s office stated. According to a 2010 study by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, $5 in new food stamp benefits can generate $9 in total community spending, and every additional dollar’s worth of food stamp benefits generates 17 to 47 cents of new spending on food.
In April, the Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance (OTDA) put in place a new statewide system for determining food stamp eligibility that uses applicant information to allow case workers to resolve discrepancies and prevent duplicate participation. This new system complies with the federal requirement to prevent duplication of food stamp benefits and similar programs have been credited as being less costly than finger imaging and potentially more effective at detecting duplicate participation.
At the governor’s direction, the OTDA has proposed regulations that would eliminate the finger imaging for the receipt of food stamp benefits. The proposed regulations are being filed today and will be available for a 45-day public comment period before being finalized. Under the proposed regulations, counties will no longer need waivers to be exempted. The proposed regulations apply to the
Joel Berg, executive director of New York City Coalition Against Hunger, said, “Finger imaging keeps food away from hungry families, loses federal funds, and fails to reduce fraud. We thank the Governor for his leadership and courage in ending it.”
William Rapfogel, Executive Director & CEO, Met Council on Jewish Poverty, added, “Governor Cuomo’s actions will help the neediest New York families and children who depend on food stamps. Thanks to the Governor, food stamp recipients will have easier access to the benefits they need and deserve to achieve food and nutritional security.”
The Council of New York Episcopal Bishops said in a statement, “We applaud Governor Cuomo’s decision to end the requirement of fingerprinting for assistance through New York’s food stamp program. No one in our state deserves to go hungry and no one eligible for this assistance deserves to be treated like a criminal. Rather than stigmatizing those in need, we should be making programs like food assistance more accessible to those who are in need. Concerns about fraud and abuse can be addressed in ways that do not stigmatize those who are seeking help. Many of our churches are involved in feeding hungry New Yorkers, so we know well how the need in increasing. We also know, as people of faith, that everyone, especially those who are poor, deserve to be treated with dignity.”