Is Hunger a Crime?
In an editorial by Joel Berg, executive director of New York City's Coalition Against Hunger, Berg called attention to New York State's announcement to continue New York City's policy of finger-imaging food stamp applicants. According to city officials, this policy is necessary to prevent fraud, and has no additional negative consequences for legitimate applicants. In his editorial, however, Joel Berg shows that both these statements are false, and in fact, the opposite is true. According to Berg, the Department of Agriculture has not found any study showing that finger-imaging reduces fraud. On the other hand, they have expressed concerns that finger-imaging discourages the poor from applying for food stamps. According to the Urban Institute, 1 in every 23 eligible applicants do not apply for food stamps solely because of the finger-imaging requirement. On the other hand, the city found only 31 cases of fraud from the approximately 1.1 million people receiving food stamps in 2006. This means that the city denies food aid to 1 person out of every 23 eligible applicants for the sake of preventing fraud in 1 out of 34,991 cases. Moreover, the city spends $800,000 a year just to keep the finger-imaging system running. Considering that the system has caught only 31 frauds in one year, this amounts to $25,806 per person caught. Thus, Berg clearly shows that the logic behind finger-imaging is flawed and ineffective. He brings up important questions for us to consider - Is hunger a crime? Should the poor be criminalized? Or are there more effective ways of addressing systemic hunger and poverty?
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