Food Stamp Recipients Have Mixed Views on Being Fingerprinted

Thursday, January 12, 2012

A debate has broken out at New York's highest levels of government over whether to continue fingerprinting food stamp recipients — and as the governor and mayor differ on the issue, so do food stamp recipients themselves.

During his State of the State speech last week, Governor Andrew Cuomo said he wanted to end the practice in part because he believes it deters people from applying for help. But Mayor Michael Bloomberg has said fingerprinting food stamp recipients helps guard against fraud.

"I felt like I was going through the system like a criminal," said Leon McPherson, who was leaving a food stamp center on Third Avenue near 125th Street this week after he had just gotten his finger scanned.

But he said he was willing to go through the process because his family badly needs the help.  He's unemployed and his wife doesn't have steady work.

McPherson said he knows others who avoid food stamps because they don’t want to be fingerprinted: "They feel like it’s degrading," he said. "Everybody don’t want to be fingerprinted because being fingerprinted means being tagged with something wrong."

The city says the process is meant to catch duplicate food stamp cases that are either honest mistakes or fraud. According to the Human Resources Administration, in 2010 just over 1900 duplicate cases were found saving taxpayers $5.3 million. There were more than 1.8 million food stamp recipients that year.

"If you’re going to be afraid to be fingerprinted that means you have something to hide," said Linda Fernandez, who is unemployed and receives food stamps. "I don’t have nothing to hide so I don’t mind".

But her friend, Linda Rodriguez, said her son refuses to get food stamps because the process makes him feel like a criminal even though she said he needed the help "bad, real bad." She said he has a new baby and lost his job at a factory.

Others said the real fraud occurs when certain bodega owners give patrons cash in exchange for food stamps — a scam that fingerprinting cannot detect.

"Here's my card. I got so much food stamps. How much cash do I get?" said a man outside the center who would only identify himself as Frank, indicating how a transaction might play out.

The United States Department of Agriculture licenses retailers and is responsible for investigating retailer fraud.  The agency says it's aware of the scam and prosecutes retailers who engage in it.

New York City is the only locality in the state that finger prints food stamp recipients. 

Since his state of the state address last week, Cuomo has not released details on how he plans to end fingerprinting.


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Comments [7]

cwebba1 from Astoria

The Food Stamp Office in Queens NY is a CRIME. Think Abu Garib to imagine what it is like to get help in Queens NYC. Queens government representatives should all resign. Shame! #OccupyFoodStamps

Jan. 12 2012 02:49 PM
Peter from Brooklyn

It's interesting seeing so many comments coming down so firmly on one side of this issue or the other. I really can argue it both ways, and am not sure which is correct.

Jan. 12 2012 01:23 PM
maria rodriguez from nj

its bad enough that being on assistance is degrading to some ppl and now with the fingerprinting is making it worse.. leave us the little dignity we have left and get rid of the stupid fingerprinting, i dont steal from no one so stop treating me like a criminal!!!!!!

Jan. 12 2012 10:07 AM
Randy from Manhattan

Only people who have something to hide fear being finger printed to accept public benefits. More than a thousand New Yorkers (criminals) have been caught in 2011 cheating the system.

The main problem with the Food Stamps is what can be bought. Junk food like Cheetos, potato chips, and soda should not be eligible. That would help to cut down on the obesity problem the mayor rallies against. Purchases should be restricted to fruit, vegetables, meat, fish, fowl, milk, yogurt without fruit and 100% fruit juice.

Jan. 12 2012 09:56 AM
Emmy from NYC

People complain all the time about over-regulation and this is one very simple example of it. How much does this fingerprinting program cost and really, what benefit is achieved? Public officials should be very aware that this is the people's money that is being spent and stop wasting it on frivilous programs that make those who feel that being hard on crime is a good thing have a warm, fuzzy feeling while actually accomplishing nothing except criminalizing people who have fallen on hard times.

Get rid of this program and others like it.

Jan. 12 2012 09:51 AM
cwebba1 from Astoria

Your headline is Bull. Food Stamp recipients have no other choice. Nobody enjoys being fingerprinted. Stop treating hungry people like criminals.

Jan. 12 2012 09:29 AM
Vana from NYC

Fingerprinting is used to solve crime not prevent it. If they thought it would deter crime, why didn't they use it for Katrina victims, welfare recipients, Medicare recipients, Medicaid recipients, disabled people, senior citizens, unemployed people. Should everyone who receives gov't assistance be fingerprinted? If New York is the only state that fingerprints it should be changed and what is being done with the fingerprint files? Can the fingerprint files be turned over to law enforcement if they request it? It's humiliating enough to ask for help now they are making people feel like criminals when they do.

Jan. 12 2012 12:54 AM

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