More than three million state residents – one in six – now live in poverty according to a survey conducted by the NYC 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 that are trying to put food on their children’s table by requiring them to be fingerprinted.
While I share Mayor 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 under-funded program.
In 2011, the U.S. Department of Agriculture undersecretary wrote 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,” and he encouraged states to find more cost-effective methods to root out possible fraud.
According to a study conducted by the Food and Research Action Center analyzing data provided by the New York Times, in Queens County 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 over 262,587 were receiving SNAP Benefits, although over 381,612 people were eligible for the program. Thanks to Governor 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 don't even realize it. Other eligible applicants are ashamed to admit they need help. It’s time to get rid of the stigma, a stigma that fingerprinting requirements reinforce.
We can not 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 represents the 24th Assembly district in Queens.