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Empire Justice comments on proposed regulations to end food stamp finger imaging in New York State

July 4, 2012

 

VIA E-MAIL:  Jeanine.Behuniak@otda.ny.gov

July 2, 2012

Jeanine Behuniak
New York State Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance
40 North Pearl Street, 16C
Albany, New York 12243-0001

 

RE:  Proposed rule making
       ID No TDA-22-00022-P
       Eliminate finger imaging for purposes of the Food Stamp Program

 

Dear Ms. Behuniak:

We appreciate this opportunity to comment on behalf of the Empire Justice Center with regard to the proposed amendments to 18 NYCRR §§ 351.2, 384.3, 387.9, and the repeal of 18 NYCRR §§  388.8.   Empire Justice is a statewide, multi-issue, multi-strategy public interest law firm focused on changing the “systems” within which poor and low income families live.

We strongly support the proposal to eliminate all finger imaging requirements from the Food Stamp Program in New York State, and to rely on more efficient and effective methods to detect and prevent and detect duplicate participation.

In December 2011, Empire Justice released a detailed report of New York's finger imaging program, Time to Leave Fingerprints Behind[1], based on our review of hundreds of fair hearing decisions involving New York City households denied food stamps due to finger imaging requirements.  The households in our study had all been denied or cut off benefits because the food stamp office said that a household member refused to be finger imaged.

We learned that 97% of the appeal decisions threw out the finger imaging denials due to agency mistakes in the fingerprinting process.  Our analysis also found systematic violations of both the Americans with Disabilities Act and federal food stamp law.  Frail homebound elderly and individuals with severe disabilities were cut off for not showing up for fingerprinting.  People making good faith efforts to comply with the process were cut off.  Even people who actually got fingerprinted were cut off.    All these households had to fight through the appeals process and wait months to get their cases resolved and receive the nutrition assistance they needed.

Our data confirmed what repeated other studies on the state and national level have shown - that finger imaging prevents eligible households from accessing food stamp benefits.  Our findings also shattered many of the common myths about finger imaging – “it’s easy and efficient”; “it’s a proven tool to prevent fraud”; “it doesn’t actually hurt anyone.”

Although our report focused on problems in New York City, finger imaging also presents access barriers in upstate counties, as evidenced by fair hearing decisions in districts outside of New York City, including Albany (6050047K, 5785520L), Columbia (6002515J), Delaware (4480623L), Niagara (5613792P) and Onondaga (5613569M).    It is critical that that finger imaging be removed on a statewide basis.

Over 15 years ago, finger imaging was touted as the most technologically advanced tool to prevent individuals from defrauding the state and receiving additional benefits.  However, repeated studies, including our own report, have shown that finger imaging is ineffective in detecting fraud; it discriminates against a wide range of people; and it significantly reduces participation by eligible households.  Finger imaging wastes valuable tax dollars by costing millions per year for a private contractor to administer. 

For these reasons, we wholeheartedly and enthusiastically support the proposed recission of New York’s food stamp finger imaging requirement.    We urge the Department to implement final regulations as soon as possible.

Thank you for your consideration of our comments.

Sincerely, 

Cathy Roberts
Senior Paralegal
Empire Justice Center
119 Washington Avenue
Albany, NY  12210
(518) 462-6831 x 112
croberts@empirejustice.org
www.empirejustice.org