Texas nears rollout of fingerprint system

The Texas Department of Human Services (DHS) said it will finish by the end of this month statewide rollout of the Lone Star Image System, a fingerprint imaging system designed to combat welfare fraud.

Michael Mahoney, communications director for the Lone Star Technology Department, said the system is 90 percent in place. The final piece is the Arlington, Texas, region, which includes the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex.

Texas House Bill 1863, which was passed in 1995, required DHS to develop a program to make the welfare application process more secure. DHS decided to use fingerprint imaging technology in the process and set up a pilot program in San Antonio. The pilot showed the system could return a fingerprint match in just five minutes, and the system now returns matches overnight.

"We felt an overnight return was good enough because if there is a match, it gets referred to the fraud investigators," Mahoney said. "Finger imaging isn't enough to bust anybody. Fraud investigators still have to build a case."

The Lone Star Image System scans the pad of a welfare applicant's finger -- a different method than the forensic-quality 10-print scan used for an automated fingerprint identification system. "If you are booked for a crime, you get a 10-print, nail-to-nail scan made," said Sandra Salzer, a senior communications specialist with Sagem Morpho Inc., integrator of the Lone Star Image System. "In this system you are simply putting your finger on a single digit reader. And it reads only the pad of your print."

By the end of August, DHS will have at least one finger imaging station in each of its almost 400 offices. Some of the bigger offices get two stations. DHS is using the system for applicants of its food stamp and Temporary Assistance to Needy Families programs. Texas has about 550,000 people registered for food stamps and close to 150,000 people registered for TANF.

Most TANF recipients also receive food stamps, but the new system is designed to catch the illegal practice of signing up for one or both programs multiple times. "That type of fraud is very difficult to detect," Mahoney said.

The system is working well and is meeting its requirements with an accuracy rate of more than 99 percent, Mahoney said. "There have been only 12 cases referred to the Office of the Inspector General for investigation. It's not really designed to catch people. It was designed to close a loophole."

Other states, including Arizona, Connecticut and New York, have similar implementations.

-- Joshua Dean (joshua_dean@fcw.com)

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