Fingerprinting for Food Stamps

ImageDuring my long drives last week, I listened to a lot of New York State speeches, because my NPR station comes out of NYC. It was actually fascinating. They are planning on redeveloping Jacob Javitts Center, raising the minimum wage ($7 per hour!) and doing something about the sinking situation in Buffalo (3rd poorest city in the US!). Also on the table is fingerprinting for food stamps

In order to receive food stamps, one must first be fingerprinted. This measure was put in place to reduce fraud. However, it also makes poor people feel like criminals, and it may be one reason why more people aren't taking advantage of this program. 

Cuomo wants to change this policy. Bloomberg wants to keep it. 

31 thoughts on “Fingerprinting for Food Stamps

  1. I don’t know how much food stamp fraud there is, but identity theft is a big deal. (People worry a lot about strangers stealing their names, but anecdotally, one of the major perpetrators of identity theft is dear old mom. She knows your birthday and your social security number and your mother’s maiden name (!!!), so stealing your identity is as easy as pie.)

  2. The NY times had a letter to the editor from someone associated w/ New York’s program that said that they’d been able to prevent >1 million in fraud through detecting duplicate applications for food stamps, with the implied (but not proven) idea that the fingerprinting was responsible for detecting these duplicates.
    I think it’s interesting to see the conflict between privacy concerns and fraud/crime detection in both the conservative/liberal “libertarian” communities.

  3. I don’t think we’ve really figured out how we’re going to deal with privacy in a world where we can monitor/record/measure so many metrics about people. Fingerprinting for food stamps wouldn’t have been cost effective before the era of technological methods of measuring finger prints + the image processing to process them. Now there’s a plausible argument that it is.
    In an interesting finger print story, my father had to be fingerprinted in order to volunteer at a school. It turns out that the automatic machines don’t work on his fingers, presumably because of his age, but also potentially because of his work on farms as a young person. So, he had to drive all over the state to get finger printed the old fashioned way, and wait for a long time in order to have those finger prints verified. It’s an interesting personal example of how this kind of law can create ripple consequences. He was motivated enough to spend the extra time for the finger prints and the school was flexible enough to wait for the volunteer work. But in alternative circumstances, everyone might have given up.

  4. I think that biometric information should probably become standard for non-cash transactions. Hearing about paying for stuff by just waving a cell phone gives me the creeps. It’s bad enough that a few years ago, I got about $30,000 in unsolicited fake credit card checks in a single morning’s mail delivery. I called up the credit card companies immediately and canceled that particular “service” and haven’t seen them since, but what if somebody other than me had gotten to those letters first? It’s like sending loaded guns in the mail.
    In my opinion, the loss of privacy from requiring biometric info is far outweighed by the horrible inconvenience of going around and cleaning up after a scammer (and getting treated like a criminal in the process). If the scammer is a close family member, most people will not pursue their legal rights and could be permanently (or at least for the foreseeable future) damaged by another person’s dishonesty, so it’s important to stop the fraud from happening to begin with.
    http://www.mint.com/blog/uncategorized/tuesday-train-wreck-my-mom-stole-my-identity/comment-page-1/#comments
    It might be a good compromise to make biometric cross-checking an opt-in for major transactions. One option that is already available is to freeze credit. I’m planning on doing that as soon as it becomes feasible (post-house purchase).
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Credit_freeze
    Identity theft is a big issue, and we haven’t really started to deal with it effectively as a society (hence all those stupid, over-promising ads on the radio).

  5. We had a teenage relative steal our credit card number to pay for internet service (her parents didn’t want her to have it) a while back. That was really irritating. We didn’t prosecute.
    It shouldn’t be so easy to just key in some numbers and spend other people’s money.

  6. I got about $30,000 in unsolicited fake credit card checks in a single morning’s mail delivery.
    How do you know they were fake?

  7. MH,
    Sorry, poor phrasing. They’re fake in that if I do use the checks, they turn into credit card debt. It looks like money, but it’s debt.

  8. I don’t know. You have to be fingerprinted to teach in a public school, or to substitute teach in a public school. It didn’t make me feel like a criminal.
    It seems like if you have to be fingerprinted to get a paycheck, it’s reasonable to suggest you should also be fingerprinted to get a government subsidy. Is there a reason that the rights of those who DON”T work are somehow more sacrosanct than the rights of those who do?

  9. To be unfair, Hitler lived in a homeless shelter for a while. If not helping the poor means just one future-Hitler starves before he can come into power, welfare programs are unjustified on utilitarian grounds.

  10. The original Godwin’s Law just said Hitler would come up in the discussion, not that you had to stop when Hitler was mentioned.

  11. Then there’s the whole SAT cheating issue:
    http://www.nytimes.com/2011/12/02/education/on-long-island-sat-cheating-was-hardly-a-secret.html?pagewanted=all
    If we do go more biometric for IDs, I think we’re going to wonder how we ever lived without them.
    I was just reading a bunch of sad tales of woe from people who realized (often at 19 or 20 or in their very early 20s) that their parents or other relatives have blighted their young lives. You hear from people like a young mother-to-be who can’t get utilities turned on because a parent ran up bills in her name, a guy in the military who may lose his security clearance (and hence his job) over a relative’s spending spree, and new college grads who discover that they can’t rent an apartment because their credit is trashed. There is so much reluctance to turn a relative over to law enforcement that the perps are often able to repeat this process with multiple relatives. And without a police report, it’s hard to make an effective case against these bad accounts.

  12. If we do go more biometric for IDs, I think we’re going to wonder how we ever lived without them.
    Possibly you are right. Or, it could be that when they become common enough that they are becoming a daily hassle for middle and upper-middle class white people, there will be a backlash against the interference (as is starting to happen now with ever-more-intrusive airport security that is imposed upon all, irrespective of our swarthiness).
    But until we make a societal decision that biometrics are A-OK with us, I have a problem with their being rolled out in a way that impacts the poor people getting food stamps more than the rich with their (for example) farm subsidies or charitable donation deductions.

  13. “Or, it could be that when they become common enough that they are becoming a daily hassle for middle and upper-middle class white people, there will be a backlash against the interference (as is starting to happen now with ever-more-intrusive airport security that is imposed upon all, irrespective of our swarthiness).”
    I can deal with being finger-printed and retina-scanned, while opposing being ineffectually and intimately groped by people who weren’t smart enough to be real police (or worse, having the same thing happen to my kids–remember how we were supposed to teach kids that nobody can touch them without their permission?).
    For one thing, I’m guessing that the TSA experience is very disproportionately affecting older people, because they have more embarrassing and at the same time suspicion-triggering stuff (adult diapers, colostomy bags and medical stuff in their bodies that triggers alarms).
    http://www.local10.com/news/3-elderly-women-say-TSA-agents-made-them-pull-down-pants-underwear/-/1717324/4881644/-/ub38v2z/-/index.html
    My grandparents may never get on a plane again because the process is so exhausting and humiliating. And what are people in their late 80s and early 90s supposed to do–drive across the country? (Being on a train or a bus for several days really isn’t a good option for people that age, either.)
    “…there will be a backlash against the interference…”
    I’d like to think there’s a backlash, but TSA only gets worse and worse. They’re starting to do trains, too, so that escape route is closing:
    http://losangeles.cbslocal.com/2011/12/27/from-planes-to-trains-tsa-expands-spot-searches-to-union-station/

  14. “I have a problem with their being rolled out in a way that impacts the poor people getting food stamps more than the rich with their (for example) farm subsidies or charitable donation deductions.”
    Easy–we end farm subsidies. Problem solved. Next question!
    For the charitable donations, you mainly need to scrutinize the stuff being donated, not the donor, because that’s where the fudging is occurring.

  15. Biometrics will help the poor in a variety of ways.
    1) Anybody who can’t pay $2,000 for a ringer to take the SAT for them will benefit. The playing field for college entrance will be evened.
    2) It will be easier to demonstrate that you didn’t take out loans or incur charges. This is a very big deal. Bad debt haunts the working poor.
    3) If mom can’t easily steal the kids’ identities, family relationships will be less frequently poisoned by identity theft. This is important, because if you are poor, your relationships with your relatives are one of your most important forms of capital.

  16. For one thing, I’m guessing that the TSA experience is very disproportionately affecting older people,
    And older people are wealthier — especially those who fly semi-regularly.
    Maybe the right comparison is Social Security. Tell the old folks that in order to keep getting their checks, they have to get fingerprinted every 6 months to make sure Junior isn’t pocketing the cash for years after Granny passes on.
    If you can get the new rule to stick without sparking an “Occupy The Social Security Administration” movement of white, unhygienic, dread locked 70 year olds, then you can keep your fingerprinting of the food stamp recipients.

  17. I work in a business that you have to be a member to enter. We have people sneak in constantly. It’s really frustrating, not just to us, but to the members who have paid.
    I actually looked at biometrics as a way to check for valid membership. There would be no more entering someone else’s code or sneaking in with a group.
    It’s expensive enough that we didn’t even far enough into the discussion to think about civil liberties. But frankly, it would be sweet if I could do it without the larger implications.

  18. to make sure Junior isn’t pocketing the cash for years after Granny passes on
    That kind of story is an evergreen in the local paper. I’m uncertain how much money you would have to pay me keep a corpse in my freezer, but I’m fairly certain nobody ever got that much from Social Security.

  19. “Maybe the right comparison is Social Security. Tell the old folks that in order to keep getting their checks, they have to get fingerprinted every 6 months to make sure Junior isn’t pocketing the cash for years after Granny passes on.”
    That’s not a bad plan, although every 6 months sounds punitive, particularly for elderly shut-ins. Every year or two years would work almost as well (maybe combined with a flu/pneumonia shot clinic?).

  20. Cross-referencing SS with Medicare would be easier. Anybody over 80 who doesn’t get a medical bill in a year is either extremely lucky, neglected, or under the crawlspace. I assume they don’t do it now because there aren’t many people willing to hide a body.

  21. There was a giant scandal in Japan couple-three years ago. Global public health mavens were talking about what a good job Japan was doing keeping its geezers well and happy, so many centenarians relative to population. Somebody went out to find and interview them, and found bodies. Take that, MH!
    And, here is a great story from the interviewing-centenarians front: Jeanne Calment, the Arles resident who got to 122,was the oldest woman in France for years-and-year-and-years. So the swell Paris dailies would send some stripling out to interview her on her birthday. And, at about 115, the scribe said at the end of the interview how nice it had been to meet her and he hoped to meet her again. “Why not?” she said “You look healthy!”

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