Stop fingerprinting the hungry

Mayor Bloomberg must immediately drop the city’s policy of fingerprinting poor people who seek food.

This bad policy –only in effect in New York City and the state of Arizona- has been harshly criticized by anti-hunger advocates and elected officials, including President Obama, since its inception in 2006 as a supposedly anti-fraud measure.

On Tuesday, Governor Cuomo pledged to use the state’s authority to end the city requirement. But a defiant Bloomberg reportedly has said that he will try to persuade the Governor to keep the policy. “There’s no stigma attached to being fingerprinted,” he reportedly said, all the while knowing that fingerprinting is associated with criminal checks.

Contrary to the Mayor’s out-of-touch assertions, those on the ground working with the poor have long reported that fingerprinting dissuades workers who have lost their jobs from seeking the assistance. Nearly 30,000 eligible people do not apply for food stamps because of the time-consuming and embarrasing requirement of finger-imaging.

But how specifically the poor are subjected to scrutiny isn’t the only problem. In the six years of implementation, the Mayor hasn’t been able to document the success of fingerprinting in deterring fraud and avoiding duplication of requests. In fact, at a recent City Council hearing, his human resources commissioner Robert Doar failed to explain the effectiveness of the policy.

Critical of City Hall’s policy, the City Council Speaker Christine Quinn – an otherwise Bloomberg ally –introduced legislation that will require the City to report any food stamp fraud actually detected by fingerprinting.

With unemployment and poverty on the rise, Bloomberg should voluntarily end a requirement that discourages hungry New Yorkers from obtaining food –instead of letting his constituents wait for the Governor to undo this wrongheaded policy.

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