CITY HALL OFFICE
250 BROADWAY, ROOM 1781NEW YORK, NY 10007(212) 788-6853
OF GENERAL WELFARE
1041 CASTLE HILL AVENUEBRONX, NY 10472(718) 792-1140FAX: (718) 931-0235
December 14, 2010Robert Doar Commissioner Human Resources Administration180 Water Street New York, NY 10038Dear Commissioner Doar,We were disturbed to read yesterday that three current and former HRA employees have been charged with stealing $8 million in food stamp benefits. This is clearly the act of individuals intent on defrauding the program for personal gain, and they should be prosecuted to the full extent of the law. However, it also raises serious concerns aboutthe ways in which HRA monitors for fraud in the food stamp system.You are quoted in yesterday’s New York Post as saying, “we are reevaluating our processes to be sure this unacceptable offense is prevented in the future.” We hope thatthis reevaluation includes a substantial policy shift away from the use of finger imaging.The finger imaging of food stamp applicants is currently the primary method used byHRA to prevent fraud. This method is only useful in detecting one kind of fraud – namely, a single applicant receiving multiple benefit cases.That kind of potential fraud pales in comparison to incidents of government employeesfalsifying cases or stores illegally giving cash in exchange for benefits. Historically, thelargest cases of fraud have involved food stamp recipients selling their benefits for alower cash value, to store and restaurant owners who then turn them in for reimbursement. Because these kinds of cases – such as a $60 million scheme in 1998 – involve lawful food stamp recipients, they are undetectable through the use of finger imaging.In fact, in the full history of food stamp finger imaging in New York City, there is not asingle instance in which it has been used to prosecute suspected fraud. On the contrary, itis a harmful, destructive, and discriminatory practice that does nothing to prevent thekind of fraud we see being prosecuted today.