Cindy Rodriguez is the Urban Policy reporter for New York Public Radio.
Governor Andrew Cuomo announced Thursday that food stamp recipients will no longer be fingerprinted. It was a controversial policy that Mayor Michael Bloomberg has staunchly defended for years.
The city had been allowed to fingerprint food stamp recipients, while other cities chose to opt out receiving a waiver from the state. Cuomo’s rule change does away with the need for a waiver, and instead will do away with the fingerprinting requirement altogether. This will go into effect in July.
Mayor Bloomberg has long maintained that fingerprinting food stamp recipients deters fraud. The city's Human Resources Administration oversees the food stamp program. In a written statement, Commissioner Robert Doar defended the policy, saying it saved the city $35 million in duplicate payments over a decade.
“We remain committed to doing everything we can, consistent with state and federal regulations, to protect the integrity of the food stamp program," the commissioner added.
The City Council and advocates for the poor have been fighting to end fingerprinting and have long maintained that it stigmatizes needy people and stifles participation in the federally funded program. In ending the practice, Governor Cuomo agreed with advocates and said that government should lead with its head and its heart.
"In 2012, no one should go hungry in the state of New York especially a child, a senior or our disabled," Cuomo said.
New York City is one of only two places in the country to continue fingerprinting food stamp recipients. Joel Berg of the New York City Coalition Against Hunger said Cuomo deserves a lot of credit. “Other [New York] governors may have opposed this in their hearts but never had the courage and the guts to go against the City of New York,” Berg said.
Advocates for the poor are not sure how many people refused to apply for food stamps due to the fingerprinting requirement but they estimate the number is in the thousands. Erasma Beras-Monticciolo, a caseworker with the East River Development Alliance, signs people up for food stamps and said that at nearby public housing developments, there's always people who refuse food stamps.
“We've gotten some push back from folks that they just didn't want to access it because of the finger imaging," Beras-Monticciolo said. “So now we can speak to that and go to each development and kind of announce it”.
Defenders of the policy questioned whether fingerprinting was a deterrent, noting that there has been a rise in food stamp participation since 2007.
In 1996, New York City became one of the first places in the country to start fingerprinting food stamp recipients. Along with Arizona, it's the only place that continues the practice.