michael bloomberg

Michael Bloomberg Defended Fingerprinting Food-Stamp Recipients in 2018 Interview

Photo: Brett Carlsen/Getty Images

Since formally launching his presidential campaign last year, former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg has moved steadily up the polls. Bloomberg, a former Republican, is running as a champion of gun-control and climate-change legislation, and may now pose a viable threat to the other moderates in the race. But with that increased viability comes commensurate scrutiny of his record as mayor and as a billionaire philanthropist. A 2018 talk the mayor delivered at the International Monetary Fund may only contribute to that scrutiny.

In the video, which appears on the IMF’s YouTube channel and shows Bloomberg in conversation with Christine Lagarde, then-head of the IMF, the former mayor criticizes minimum-wage laws and defends the practice of fingerprinting food-stamp recipients, which he enforced during his time in office.

“The first thing to do is to get rid of some of these impediments to job creation,” he told Lagarde. “For example, in the United States we have two things, one of which is brilliant, and one of which is used all the time but is dysfunctional, [though] we just don’t think of it this way. We have minimum wages. And a minimum wage means that the employer has to pay up to that level for their employees.”

Bloomberg continued:

So, what would go through an employer’s mind if they have to raise the amount of money they have to pay one of their employees? It is ‘Ah, can I do with fewer employees?’ But we don’t want companies to cut back the number of people they employ. What we really should be trying to do is convince them to employ more people. And in the interest of giving people a living wage, we are getting them to lose their jobs. Not everybody, but some.

Bloomberg went on to praise the Earned Income Tax Credit, or EITC, as the superior policy.

Even in 2018, when Bloomberg delivered his remarks, available research undercut his arguments. Economists had reached no consensus conclusion that linked higher minimum wages to major job losses. Later, in 2019, a white paper published by Anna Godoey and Michael Reich at the University of California, Berkeley did not “detect adverse effects on employment hours or weeks worked” in municipalities and states that raised the minimum wage. Instead, the laws largely behaved as they were intended to: They raised take-home pay.

Bloomberg didn’t just criticize the minimum wage in his IMF talk. During the same Q&A session, he claimed that as mayor, he discovered that some New Yorkers were fraudulently signing up for food stamps. (Most experts agree that food-stamp fraud is uncommon, as is true of welfare fraud in general.) As mayor, Bloomberg kept in place a policy of fingerprinting food-stamp applicants, ostensibly to cut down on fraud. By 2012, New York City was one of only two places to fingerprint food-stamp applicants. Governor Andrew Cuomo eventually ended the practice.

But Bloomberg still defended the policy in his conversation with Lagarde. “A handful of people,” he claimed, “signed up under different names and they were getting four and five times the amount that they were supposed to get, which meant that we couldn’t take care of some other people who really deserved it.” Fingerprinting people ensured they “could only register once,” he added.

“Now, there was a lot of yelling and screaming and saying, that we’re invading your personal space by looking at your fingerprints. Well, that may be, but you can’t come to work for New York City unless we fingerprint you first. So it’s not unreasonable to think that the beneficiaries of our program would get fingerprinted too,” he continued. “We’re just stopping people from breaking the law, which is hurting other people.”

In a statement to New York, Stu Loeser, a spokesperson for Bloomberg, said, “In the full conversation in this video, the IMF’s Christine Lagarde and Mike Bloomberg agree that the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) is the preferable policy,” compared to minimum wage, “because it gets the most money and the most jobs to the most people. This isn’t just a theory — as mayor, Mike created New York City’s very own EITC, which put $859.7M back in the pockets of hardworking New Yorkers between 2004 and 2013.”

Loeser added:

As President, Mike’s All-In Economy plan will enhance the Federal EITC, pay it monthly and pay more where it’s most needed. But the plan will also increase the minimum wage to $15 an hour for all Americans and index it to inflation. Another accomplishment that’s not just a theory:the number of low-income New Yorkers receiving food stamps grew by 124 percent between 2001-13 because of eight major policy improvements by Mayor Bloomberg including eliminating food stamp penalties when people saved a few thousand dollars, and also because of continued focus on fighting fraud that Mike discussed in this video. It’s easy to look at 20 years of public life and find something you don’t like in someone’s statements. It’s much harder to govern a city of more than 8 million people and keep poverty rates flat, as they went up in the rest of the country. That’s what Mike Bloomberg did, and we’ll put that record up against anyone else’s in this race. 

Bloomberg’s past public appearances may continue to trouble his campaign. Earlier this week, a 2015 video of Bloomberg defending his stop and frisk policies as mayor outraged progressive activists on Twitter. In the video, which was filmed at the Aspen Institute, Bloomberg approvingly references racial profiling. “Ninety-five percent of your murders — murderers and murder victims — fit one M.O. You can just take the description, Xerox it, and pass it out to all the cops,” he said. In a statement he pushed on Twitter, Bloomberg said that he had already “apologized” for not grasping the impact of stop and frisk, a policy he said he “inherited,” and claimed that he had cut the program back. In reality, he expanded the program, and only reduced it toward the end of his term after facing grassroots pressure.