Finger Imaging: A Simple and Effective Way to Save Taxpayers Millions

Detractors of finger imaging continue to question its effectiveness in saving millions of dollars through waste and fraud prevention, without any facts to back up their criticisms. Yet the value of finger imaging is easily quantified -- and very real.

A program of the magnitude of New York City's award-winning Food Stamp Program -- 1.8 million people and over $3.3 billion in benefits -- must be managed with integrity to preserve the confidence and credibility of the taxpaying public.  The practice of requiring applicants for assistance to provide a finger image in order to prevent the issuance of duplicative benefits, is a simple and effective way to ensure that government dollars are spent on the individuals and families most in need.

Not long ago New York City's welfare rolls reached over 1 million, and fraud and waste was rampant. Duplicate food stamp and welfare cases -- sometimes several per person -- were a serious and embarrassing chapter for New York City's social services.

Today, we still identify nearly two thousand duplications through finger imaging. Some of these duplications may be inadvertent or due to human error and some may be an attempt to take advantage of the system. Finger imaging's primary purpose is to identify duplication for whatever reason.

The myth that finger imaging policies cost a lot of money to implement is simply untrue. Finger imaging food stamp applicants costs $183,000 per year. Subtract that from the $5.3 million we saved in 2010 alone, and you can instantly understand the benefits of finger imaging -- a savings of more than $5 million in taxpayer dollars. Because state law for cash assistance applications requires finger imaging, much of the infrastructure is already there.

New York ranks 17th in a USDA ranking of states by food stamp access improvement -- the best rating of any of the nation's most populous states. This proves finger imaging has not stood in the way of New Yorkers applying for food stamps. States that do not require finger imaging, often have a more onerous process for applicants. Texas requires that workers ask several identify verification questions of applicants, which are then compared to information available through data systems (e.g., birth verification system). If the applicant responds incorrectly to any questions they can be required to provide a credit report, to visit an office to clear up issues, or submit additional documentation.

The number of New Yorkers receiving food stamps has increased dramatically in the past few years as the economy is struggling, and the City has met this demand by doing more with less, relying on tools like finger imaging to keep the program accurate. 

Doing away with finger imaging would mean either increased fraud and waste or the increased program funding to prevent it, both of which would be a greater burden for both clients and taxpayers.