Fingerprinting welfare recipients proposed in Nevada bill SB72

Tom Boland (
Mon, 22 Feb 1999 21:23:39 -0800 (PST)

     Jennifer Coleman, Associated Press Writer

     Monday, February 22, 1999

CARSON CITY, NEVADA (AP) -- Legislators were told Monday about a $2
million-plus solution to a $19,000 fraud problem -- fingerprinting Nevada
welfare recipients.

       By using a central print repository, welfare workers could ensure a
recipient isn't already getting benefits under another name, and determine
whether an applicant is getting benefits in another state.

       The initial cost of the computer system proposed in SB72 would be $2
million. Maintaining that system would cost another $300,000 a year.

       But state Welfare Director Myla Florence told the Senate Committee
on Human Resources and Facilities that only five cases of duplicate-benefit
fraud were reported last year, amounting to just $19,000.

       ``The cost would greatly exceed the benefits. I don't think there'd
be a cost savings here,'' Florence acknowledged under questioning.

       Such systems are more effective in large urban areas, such as New
York City and Los Angeles, she added.

       SB72 was sought by Sagem Morpho Inc. of Tacoma, Wash., which sets up
and maintains print-tracking programs. The company contacted Senate
Majority Leader Bill Raggio, R-Reno, who in turn asked that the measure be

       Tom Miller, a business development executive with Sagem Morpho, told
legislators that 12 states have passed laws requiring welfare recipients to
be fingerprinted and 14 others are considering it.

       He insisted that recipients don't see fingerprinting as demeaning,
as critics say, but instead support it.

       ``Those who are truly in need recognize that there are those who
defraud the system,'' he said.

       But opponents said fingerprinting would further stigmatize welfare

       Gary Peck of the Nevada American Civil Liberties Union said the bill
gives a false impression of massive fraud, adding that it targets poor
people who already are vulnerable.

       ``To believe the notion that this doesn't stigmatize is
transparently silly,'' Peck said. ``There is no reason to do this. It's
only politicking for private profit.''

       Jan Gilbert of the Progressive Leadership Alliance of Nevada gave
lawmakers a study done by University of Texas that found that state's
fingerprinting system had little benefit.

       ``In Texas, the welfare stigma is high, just like Nevada, and
welfare benefits are low, also like Nevada, so there's little incentive to
commit this type of fraud,'' she said.

       Lisa Appelrouth Guzman, an advocate for women and children, told
lawmakers that people applying for benefits are already demeaned by having
to ask for help.

       ``For those of you who haven't been down to your local welfare
office, let me tell you, it is a humiliating and degrading experience to
apply for benefits,'' said Guzman, a former welfare recipient.


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