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Gov. Cuomo Ends “Fingerprinting for Food” in NYC

Gov. Cuomo Ends “Fingerprinting for Food” in NYC

In January, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo laid out his vision of economic development, “re-imagined” government and a progressive future to New Yorkers in his annual State of the State address. His ideas were well received, including a call for campaign finance reform, a new infrastructure fund and an end to New York City’s fingerprinting requirement for food stamps (currently known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP). He stated, “We must stop fingerprinting for food. No child should go hungry in the great State of New York.”

Last Thursday, Gov. Cuomo delivered on that promise when he issued a regulation that will end New York City’s exemption and bring the city into compliance with the fingerprinting ban. The regulation will be published on May 30 and will go into effect 45 days later, following a comment period moderated by the State Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo

Former New York Gov. Spitzer ended so-called “fingerprinting for food” programs across the state in 2007, but the Bloomberg administration in New York City petitioned for and received an exemption to continue the program. Gov. Cuomo’s promise to end New York City’s exemption – and his action last week to do so – continues to draw support from New York City Council Speaker (and presumptive mayoral candidate) Christine Quinn but strong opposition from Mayor Bloomberg, who continues to insist there is no stigma attached to fingerprinting for food stamps.

On the phone with reporters on Thursday, Gov. Cuomo’s statements captured why the Reform Movement supports the end of New York City’s exemption to the fingerprinting ban: "I think it's important that government, like all of us, leads using its head and its heart. We shouldn't treat the poor or the hungry as criminals, and that's what we've been doing."

After Gov. Cuomo’s regulation is implemented, Arizona will stand alone as the only city or state in the nation that requires food stamp applicants to be fingerprinted before receiving assistance. Jewish tradition teaches that feeding the hungry is a vital responsibility. Indeed, two weeks ago we read the Torah portion containing the explicit commandment to do exactly that: "And when you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap all the way to the edges of your field, or gather the gleanings of your harvest; you shall leave them for the poor and the stranger. I the Eternal am your God” (Leviticus 23:22).

The practice of fingerprinting for food is deplorable because it stigmatizes food assistance and creates barriers to this essential source of help at a time when 49 million Americans confront hunger on a daily basis and live in food-insecure households. Leviticus 23:22 commands us to remove barriers to food assistance, not create them.

Photo courtesy of Mike Groll/AP

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