SNAP Your Fingers

Why Requiring Finger Imaging for Applicants of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) is Wrong and What You Can do About it!

The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), formerly and more commonly known as the Food Stamp Program, requires all applicants in the New York City area to be fingerprinted if they are over 18 years old. Even elders, families, and people with disabilities or an inadequate means of mobility are not exempt. According to the New York-based Empire Justice Center, which recently released a report examining the issue, many of these eligible applicants do not apply to the SNAP programs because of the burden of the application process as well as the stigma associated with being fingerprinted. There are also inaccuracies in the fingerprinting process, which causes eligible applicants to be denied.

The reality is SNAP finger imaging hinders eligible New Yorkers from seeking out food assistance. Phelan Bopp of the advocacy group Hunger Solutions, told The Empire that “New York State has one of the lowest food stamp participation rates in the nation, with just 68% of those eligible actually signing up for the program,” and she believes part of the reason is the fingerprinting requirement. Eligible participants, especially the elderly, single-parent households, and those with disabilities, have a difficult time complying with fingerprinting requirements that require multiple appointments and travel costs. There is already a stigma associated with receiving Food Stamps, which is heightened when applicants are required to be fingerprinted, as if they were involved in suspicious behavior.

Additionally, it has been estimated that the finger imaging process for SNAP annually costs New York over $5 million. That’s money that could be spent to partly restore food assistance funding that has been cut. Especially in hard time like these, this use of government funds is unfair to taxpayers.

Cuomo vs. Bloomberg

Recently, Governor Cuomo announced his stance against compulsory finger printing for SNAP applicants in his State of the State address. However, Mayor Bloomberg disagrees. “There are people who want to game the system, unfortunately – it’s just society,” Bloomberg was quoted as saying in The New York Times.  Furthermore, Bloomberg claims there’s no stigma to fingerprinting, pointing out that over 230,000 New York City employees in have been fingerprinted. However, this argument does not take into account the vast differences between the situation of getting a job and consenting to a background check, and being in a vulnerable position requiring government assistance. People applying for Food Stamps are likely embarrassed about their situation, and have few other options, and then are treated as if their situation automatically assumes some sort of guilt.

What you can do!

Thank Governor Cuomo for taking a stance against fingerprinting and ask him to make his support official on an Executive Order.

Remind him that the finger imaging process:

–          Is costly—NY spends over $5 million annually on the process, which is unfair to taxpayers.

–          Does not reduce fraud and hinders eligible applicants from feeding themselves, which is a violation of federal law.

Write to the Governor today at

Contact Mayor Bloomberg and tell him why you think finger printing should not be compulsory for SNAP applicants for the same reasons as above.

PHONE 311 (or 212-NEW-YORK outside NYC)

Thank you for being an active citizen and taking a stance against finger imaging for SNAP.

Remember that the only way to stop this is if we all stand together and remind New Yorkers everywhere that only NYC and Arizona State require SNAP applicants to be fingerprinted.

Further Reading on SNAP and Finger Imaging

Roberts, Cathy and Kristin Brown Lilley “Time to Leave Finger Prints Behind: Fair Hearings in NYC Show How Unfair Finger Imaging is for New Yorkers” Empire Justice Center (December, 2011).

Food Security of SNAP Recipients Improved Following the 2009 Stimulus Package

Bloomberg Says He Will Fight for Fingerprinting Rule

Stigmatizing Hunger: Why Finger Imaging SNAP Recipients is Bad Policy

Can the scan: End fingerprinting for SNAP funds

Contributed by Elise Stukenberg of the Human Services Council.


About Human Services Council

The Human Services Council strengthens New York's nonprofit human services sector, ensuring all New Yorkers across diverse neighborhoods, cultures, and generations reach their full potential.
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One Response to SNAP Your Fingers

  1. Also check out Empire Justice Center’s study of a year’s worth of finger imaging related Fair Hearings in NYC, which found that in 97% of cases, HRA either lost the fair hearing or withdrew and identifies elderly, disabled and working parents as those hurt the most by using such outdated methods of fraud detection:

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