The 311 on Food Stamps: What You Need To Know

The 311 on Food Stamps: What You Need To Know

January 18, 2012 at 4:00 am

Gov. Andrew Cuomo says the practice of fingerprinting for food stamps should be abolished. Mayor Michael Bloomberg disagrees. MetroFocus/Kevon Greene

It’s an undeniable fact that millions of New Yorkers are hungry and need assistance to feed their families. More than 3 million a month, to be exact. Demand has increased, too. In July, the city’s Human Resources Administration hired 100 workers to deal with the influx of New Yorkers applying for food stamps and rent-assistance, and plans to hire 100 more, reported the Daily News.

But just how to help is a contentious issue.

Tensions over food stamp distribution erupted in earnest in early January when Gov. Andrew Cuomo, in his State of the State speech, said he would put an end to New York City’s policy of fingerprinting food stamp recipients — a policy Mayor Michael Bloomberg steadfastly supports.

“One of the things we do now and makes the stigma actually worse and creates a barrier for families coming forward to get food stamps is we require fingerprinting. I’m saying stop fingerprinting for families,” said Cuomo.

Spurred on by the strong opinions and the money at stake — Cuom’s 2012 budget includes an additional $1 million for the state Nutrition Outreach and Education Program, a food stamp program — MetroFocus decided to take a look at the issue of food stamps in New York. Here’s what you should know:

Q: How many people in New York receive food stamps?

A: According to the state office of Temporary and Disability Assistance, 3,046,972 individuals received food stamps statewide in November of 2011. In New York City, 1,819,653 individuals got food stamps that same month.

The number of recipients has grown by nearly 33 percent — or 1 million people — since November 2008, according to data from the Temporary and Disability Assistance office.

Q: Who gets food stamps?

A: Food stamps are awarded based on need to individuals, families, senior citizens and the disabled. Eligible households can receive benefits from the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) if they fall into a lower-wage income bracket. For example, a single individual with no dependents and an annual gross income of $14,160 or less is eligible for food stamp benefits. For more info, see New York’s Temporary and Disability Assistance website.

New York City is the only municipality in the state that requires food stamp recipients to be fingerprinted. Gov. Andrew Cuomo wants to change that. MetroFocus/Kevon Greene

Q: What’s the deal with fingerprinting for food stamps?

A: The practice of the state requiring fingerprints for food stamp recipients was abolished in 2007 by then-Gov. Eliot Spitzer, but New York City maintained the practice. Arizona is the only other place in the U.S. that requires fingerprinting for food stamps. Bloomberg says fingerprinting is imperative to prevent fraud and protect taxpayer dollars. People “game the system,” Bloomberg told the New York Times, by double-dipping and receiving benefits twice. In a “Letter to the Editor” also published in the Times, the commissioner of New York City’s Human Resources Administration, Robert Doar, said catching potential duplicate benefits before they were issued saved taxpayers $5 million in the last year.

But Cuomo says fingerprinting is a deterrent to potential food stamp recipients. He believes 30 percent more hungry New Yorkers would get food stamps if fingerprinting were not a requirement.

Q: Where do the 2013 mayoral election candidates stand on fingerprinting?

A: All the candidates running to be the next mayor of New York City oppose Bloomberg’s fingerprinting policy — including City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, the frontrunner and candidate with the closest ties to Bloomberg.

“Mayor Bloomberg and I couldn’t disagree more — fingerprinting food stamp applicants is a time-consuming and unnecessary process, which stigmatizes applicants and has prevented 24,000 New Yorkers from getting the help they deserve,” said Quinn in a statement. “The mayor should not even think of challenging Governor Cuomo’s decision.”

As for public opinion, a poll released on Monday showed that New Yorkers are almost evenly divided on the issue, with 50 percent of New Yorkers disagreeing with Cuomo’s plan to abolish fingerprinting and 46 percent agreeing.

Q: How much does the food stamp program cost? Where does the money come from?

A: In November 2011, benefits received through food stamps equaled $459,862,827 statewide and $290,793,521 in New York City, according to the state office of Temporary and Disability Assistance.

In Cuomo’s State of the State address, he said an additional 30 percent of New Yorkers — equaling $1 billion in unclaimed benefits — were eligible for food stamps but weren’t receiving them.

New York state food stamp funding is administered by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and is paid for almost entirely with federal dollars.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo wants to abolish the fingerprinting requirement for food stamp recipients in New York City. AP Photo/Hans Pennink

Q: How do I sign up for food stamps?

A: To find out if you qualify for food stamps or to apply for them, visit the Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance’s website. For extra help, contact the New York City Coalition Against Hunger. Food stamps are administered monthly through an electronic benefits transfer (EBT) card.

Q: Where are New Yorkers spending their food stamp dollars?

A: Although specific numbers aren’t available on what kinds of stores (grocery stores, delis, corner markets…) see the most food stamps in New York, we do know that the number of people using them at Greenmarkets and farmer’s markets around the city grew by nearly 25 percent in 2011.