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Assembly drops fingerprinting for food stamps

June 1, 2011 12:00:00 AM PDT
California would no longer fingerprint those who apply to get welfare or food stamps under a bill approved by the California State Assembly Wednesday. No Republicans voted for the bill. A local Democrat who sponsored it says fingerprinting does little to deter fraud.

A UCLA study found that more than 2 million Californians cannot always afford enough food. Democrats want to make it easier to get food stamps.

California is one of three states that require food stamp applicants to be fingerprinted. Some advocates for the poor cite the fingerprinting process as one of the major reasons the state has the lowest food stamp participation rate in the country, at 50 percent.

Claresa Lyons and Genesis Robinson didn't like having to give their fingerprints.

"Sometimes it's kind of hard to go into anywhere knowing that you're getting fingerprinted and different things of that nature. It could be very uncomfortable," said Lyons, a food stamp recipient.

But more people may be joining the food stamp program, known as CalFresh, because the state Assembly approved a proposal to remove the fingerprinting requirement. The thinking is that with more participation, millions more in federal matching dollars would come into the state.

"By increasing participation in eligible benefits, AB 6 could serve as a massive economic stimulus package for California," said state Assemblyman Felipe Fuentes (D-Sylmar).

But Republicans fought the proposal tooth and nail, saying fingerprinting is one of the ways to combat fraud.

"And now we're going to open the floodgates. This is one firewall that prevents abuse of this system," said Assm. Brian Jones (R-Santee).

But a state audit found the fingerprinting program to be costly and redundant and recommends its elimination. Next year, the fingerprinting system will cost taxpayers $17 million to maintain.

"It's an enormous expense," said Assm. Roger Dickinson (D-Sacramento). "Why would we continue to waste our money and keep people from getting food that they need?"

The proposal now heads to the state Senate. It'll cost the state about $11 million to pay off the loan on the equipment and shut down the fingerprinting system.


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