It is very obvious that we are approaching election season in New York, as the fundraisers and calls from local politicians are starting to come with greater frequency.
Given the budget deficits that New York is facing, both at the city and state level, one of the questions I always ask politicians looking for donations is what three specific line items in the city budget do they believe could withstand cutbacks. I have never received a straightforward answer to this question and most of the time the default position from the politician is, “We must work hard to eliminate waste, fraud and abuse.”
I find it interesting that the “waste, fraud and abuse” cop-out is relied on so heavily (after all, who wouldn’t agree to eliminating these things?) but when politicians finally get the chance to address waste, fraud and abuse, they rarely take advantage of the opportunity.
A case in point is the recent turmoil over the fingerprinting of food stamp recipients. Many elected officials have demonized this practice as being a stigmatism on recipients. Recently, City Council Speaker Christine Quinn said, “Fingerprinting food-stamp applications is an unnecessary, time-consuming, stigmatizing process that I believe criminalizes poverty.” So, should we surmise from this that the only people getting fingerprinted are criminals?
This is far from the fact. Nearly every city government employee is fingerprinted. If you want a job in the school system, you need to be fingerprinted. This includes teachers, clerical staff, janitorial staff, hall monitors, cafeteria employees, sports officials, bus aides, bus drivers and employees of contract service providers who are placed within a school.
Additionally, holders of taxi medallions must go through this process. Many who work on Wall Street are fingerprinted, as are employees of the FBI, the CIA and the military. I assume this elected official believes that all of these people are stigmatized.
Clearly, this process has not stigmatized those folks, and it’s not as if the food stamp recipient, who is fingerprinted, will walk around with an ink-stained thumb for the rest of their life. If elected officials are serious about eliminating waste, fraud, and abuse, the time tested method of fingerprinting recipients of public assistance should be continued.