The Fifth Degree for Food Stamps

By: Daniel Nardini

Lawndale News Chicago's Bilingual Newspaper - Commentary New York City Council member Christine C. Quinn has called for an ordinance to be passed tracking the costs of fingerprinting those who apply for food stamps. Quinn, like a growing number of council city officials, are highly critical of poor people being treated like felons for getting a state government service. Even though food stamps are actually a federal program, they are administered by the states. In 2007, the State of New York abolished the requirement for fingerprinting for those applying for food stamps. Likewise California and Texas, which also had fingerprinting requirements, abolished these. Only New York City and the State of Arizona still have the fingerprint requirement for recipients for food stamps.

New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg insisted that New York City should keep the requirement, and the state agreed to let New York City keep fingerprinting for food stamp recipients. Bloomberg’s logic is that it “prevents fraud.” But this makes no sense. If it prevents fraud, then why has there been no case of fraud or attempted fraud by food stamp recipients recorded in New York City? More than that, why have all other states (except Arizona) abolished the fingerprint requirement if it is a truly effective tool against fraud? According to studies done in other states, the costs for maintaining the fingerprinting requirement far exceeded any cases of fraud (which were almost none), and that in those few cases of fraud other means were available to uncover the guilty.

Bloomberg’s office contends that fingerprinting is required in many states for cash assistance programs, so why not fingerprinting? There is one major difference between the two. Food stamps are government-issued coupons that are hard to forge and have serial numbers that helps both the federal and state governments keep track of where food stamps are issued and when they are used. One cannot do that with cash. Besides, one should look at the human dimension of this. As if people these days are not poor and down enough, now they are treated like felons and forced to endure one more humiliation. This is why many poor people in New York City are thinking twice about applying for food stamps even though they need them. Also, this fingerprint requirement hurts ethnic and racial minorities the most in that city since many of them need food stamps.

I have to ask Mayor Bloomberg why he wants to put himself into the same category with the likes of one of America’s most reactionary state, Arizona? It does not surprise me that Arizona would do something to punish the poor. At this point they have enacted so many pieces of reactionary legislation it is not funny. So why is Bloomberg under the belief, when just about nobody else is, that poor people should be fingerprinted like common criminals just to receive food stamps?

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