Texas Could Stop Fingerprinting for Food Stamps

Texas law requires food stamp applicants to be fingerprinted, but federal administrators say the state needs to speed up the process or risk losing funds.

"One of the things I think Texas needs to do is streamline their operations," said William Ludwig, a regional administrator for the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Food and Nutrition Service. "Finger imaging is very time-consuming."

Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst say fingerprinting is an important way to prevent people from collecting benefits under more than one name.

The Austin American-Statesman reported Friday that the fingerprint program last year led to the state investigating only four applicants for fraud.

The electronic fingerprinting program costs $3 million a year, a cost shared by the state and the federal government.

Texas is failing to process more than a third of applications within the 30 days required by the federal government, according to the Austin American-Statesman. Some families wait months for food stamps.

Ludwig in late September advised Texas officials that unless the state speeds up its application processing, its federal funds will be at risk.

He told Health and Human Services Executive Commissioner Tom Suehs the state must submit a corrective action plan that should include solutions such as eliminating fingerprinting.

Stephanie Goodman, a spokeswoman for the Health and Human Services Commission, said officials will consider eliminating fingerprinting but because that is done relatively quickly, "we really don't think it helps this particular problem very much."

An aide to Gov. Rick Perry, Allison Castle, declined to say whether the governor supports the fingerprinting.

Texas estimates that the deterrent effect of fingerprinting saves as much as $11 million a year.

State Rep. Eddie Rodriguez, D-Austin, who tried to repeal the fingerprinting requirement in 2003, said the program is "obviously a boondoggle."

"Just because you're low-income, you should not be subject to the suspicion that you have fraudulent behavior," Rodriguez said.

State Rep. Bryan Hughes, R-Mineola, said the law was put into place to ensure that only the truly needy get the benefits.

"In times like we're experiencing now when so many people are hurting it's even more important that these limited resources go to the right people," Hughes said.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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