Tuesday, Feb. 23, 1999 | 8:24 a.m.
CARSON CITY - Legislators have been told that a $2 million-plus plan to fingerprint Nevada Welfare recipients would only solve a $19,000 fraud problem.
By using a central print repository, welfare workers could ensure a recipient is not 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 on Monday 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 introduced.
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 recipients.
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.