Applying for food stamps in New York City is about to get a whole lot easier. Today Governor Cuomo announced he would end a finger imaging requirement for people applying for the Food Stamp Program in New York City. The proposal was filed today just five months after Governor Cuomo publicly declared his intentions to end the controversial program. The Governor released a statement today pointing to the policy's "negative connotations, including the perceived implication of criminality" and the "impediment to employment and child care because parents may have to take time off from work" as basis for a change in policy.
Both Governor Cuomo and City Council speaker Christine Quinn have questioned the need for fingerprinting since the Bloomberg administration requested the policy remain intact in New York City (fingerprinting has not been required elsewhere in New York State since 2007). Today Quinn released a statement supporting the Governor's efforts. "[This] sends the clear message to the tens of thousands of qualified New Yorkers who have been deterred from applying for assistance that receiving food stamps does not make you a criminal," said Quinn. Mayor Bloomberg, who has been a vocal advocate of the program has yet to respond to the proposal.
The NYC Human Resources Administration released a comment pointing to findings that "finger imaging identifies potential duplicate payments and prevents fraud, which saved more than $35 million over the last decade in a program that now provides services for 1.8 million New Yorkers annually,” said HRA Commissioner Robert Doar. “We remain committed to doing everything we can, consistent with state and federal regulations, to protect the integrity of the food stamp program.”
Food stamp usage has increased 70% in New York State since the recession began in 2007, meaning millions of New Yorkers are currently receiving aid. The hope is that this number will increase over the next year as more people feel comfortable enrolling in the program. "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," said Cardinal Timothy Dolan in a statement. "When poor people in our midst seek help, we don’t view them with immediate suspicion. We don’t humiliate them; we help them."
This move will not only benefit families in need but also provide a boost for the New York economy. A 2010 study by the U.S. Department of Agriculture showed that "$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." In addition, last year the City Council estimated that some 30,000 people were deterred from applying for the program, meaning a loss of nearly $55 million dollars in Federal funding.
The proposed regulations will be available for a 45-day public comment period before being finalized. Until today, the only other place requiring fingerprinting for food stamps as Arizona, where the policy seems like a much better fit than NYC.