Lawmakers battle over food stamp fingerprinting


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.

Food stamp recipients Claresa Lyons and Genesis Robinson did not like having to give their fingerprints.

"Sometimes it's kind of hard to go into anywhere knowing that you're getting fingerprinted and that nature, it could be very uncomfortable," Robinson said.

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

"By increasing participation in eligible benefits, AB6 could serve as a massive economic stimulus package for California," Assm.Felipe Fuentes, D-Sylmar, said.

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

"Now we're going to open the flood gates; this is one firewall that prevents abuse in the system," Assm. Brian Jones, R-Santee, said.

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.

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

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

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