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California to end food stamp fingerprinting

By Greg Lucas

SACRAMENTO, Calif (Reuters) - Low-income Californians will no longer need to be fingerprinted when they apply for food stamp assistance, under legislation signed into law on Thursday by Governor Jerry Brown.

California was one of only three states that required such fingerprinting as a condition for receiving food subsidies. The practice, in effect in California for more than a decade, ends January 1 under the new law.

The change is designed to increase the number of poor residents who can receive state-administered CalFresh benefits, up to $526 each month for a family of three to help put food on their table.

Supporters of the bill said many among hard-to-reach eligible populations are fearful of the fingerprinting requirement, which was introduced as a way of curbing fraud.

"(This bill) will help bring food to the nearly 7 million Californians who go hungry each and every day," said state Assemblyman Felipe Fuentes, a Los Angeles Democrat who sponsored the legislation signed by the Democratic governor.

1 In August, nearly 3.8 million Californians were receiving aid from CalFresh, according to the state Department of Social Services, which administers the program. This represents about 10 percent of the 37.3 million residents of California.

Of the 3.8 million, 860,000 persons also were enrolled in CalWORKS, the state's welfare program. The remaining 2.9 million received no other form of financial assistance than state food stamps.

Supporters of the new law hope it will encourage more seniors, in particular, to apply for help.

CalFresh is paid for exclusively by the federal government, which has complained that California's fingerprinting policy discourages otherwise eligible persons from participating in the program.

Fuentes says his bill will deliver $850 million more in federal benefits to low-income Californians. The federal government says that will in turn generate over $1.4 billion in increased economic activity statewide.

Food stamps pay only for food for human consumption. Alcohol, tobacco, pet food and non-food items like household supplies are not covered. The federal program has been renamed SNAP, for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.

Texas also passed legislation this year ending its practice of fingerprinting SNAP applicants. Arizona and New York City continue to do so.

(Editing by Steve Gorman and Greg McCune)

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