Governor Andrew M. Cuomo today announced that 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.
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, Governor 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.
"There is never an excuse for letting any child in New York go to bed hungry," Governor 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."
Kevin Concannon, Under Secretary for Food, Nutrition and Consumer Services at the U.S. Department of Agriculture, said, "I applaud Governor Cuomo's actions today to ban finger imaging. Forty-eight States have implemented effective and less intrusive ways to prevent fraud. This is an important step forward in providing accessible, efficiently administered food stamp benefits to eligible low-income New Yorkers. This can also ease the administrative burden for the agencies as well as for consumers."
Assemblyman Keith Wright of Harlem, the prime sponsor of legislation to end finger imaging for SNAP funds since 2007, said, "Finger imaging for SNAP funds was a weapon in the thinly veiled war against poor people, aimed not at preventing fraud, but discouraging the most vulnerable from receiving their constitutionally guaranteed benefits. Today, Governor Cuomo decommissions this arcane armament in no simple terms and eliminates a $5 million budget burden in New York City. On behalf of the thousands of New York City residents affected by this punitive requirement, I offer our collective thanks for this life-saving executive order."
Cardinal Timothy Dolan said, "Governor Cuomo has taken an important step today, simply by doing the right thing. 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."
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. 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. By increasing access to food stamps, eliminating the finger imaging requirement will benefit families as well as the state and local economies.
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, 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 entire state.
Joan Parrott-Fonseca, AARP New York State Director, said, "Governor Cuomo's proposal to eliminate the fingerprinting requirement for Food Stamp applicants will increase access to much-needed nutritional assistance for older New Yorkers. Removing this barrier will greatly reduce stigma, break down barriers to enrollment, and allow more eligible people to obtain the assistance they need."
Anne Erickson, President and CEO of Empire Justice Center, a statewide legal services and advocacy organization, said "We are extremely proud to stand with and applaud Governor Cuomo as he strikes down this insidious barrier to desperately needed assistance. Our December 2011 report, "Time to Leave Finger Prints Behind,' found that finger imaging affirmatively prevents eligible households -- including the elderly, persons with disabilities and families with children -- from accessing federally funded food stamp benefits. Every one of the improperly denied households in our report had to wait months before they got the help they needed. We are so pleased that Governor Cuomo has put a stop to this wasteful policy that only served to keep the most vulnerable among us hungry."
Linda Phelan Bopp, Executive Director, Hunger Solutions New York, said, "Thanks to Governor Cuomo's leadership, a significant barrier to the Food Stamp Program is eliminated today. This policy change will ensure that the neediest New Yorkers will no longer be made to feel like criminals because they are hungry. We applaud Governor Cuomo for enabling thousands more people to put food on their table."
Joel Berg, Executive Director, 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."
John Evers, Executive Director of the Food Bank Association of New York State, said, "Today Governor Cuomo is sending a strong message about our moral obligation to prevent hunger. People who need food stamps have committed no crime and treating them like criminals only means we are needlessly failing to help the hungry. We applaud Governor Cuomo for eliminating the practice of finger imaging and ending this longstanding impediment for food stamp recipients."
William Rapfogel, Executive Director & CEO, Met Council on Jewish Poverty, said, "Governor Cuomo's actions today 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. We salute the Governor for helping us to ensure that needy New Yorkers will benefit from this important program."
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."
Ronald Soloway, Managing Director of Government and External Relations of UJA-Federation of New York, said, "UJA-Federation of New York strongly agrees that fingerprinting should not be a pre-requisite to receipt of food stamp benefits. We believe that hungry children, hungry seniors and hungry disabled New Yorkers will benefit from this new policy."