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NYC Food Debit Card Program Expands to Migrants – NBC New York

NYC Food Debit Card Program Expands to Migrants – NBC New York

New York City is expanding a program launched in March that provides migrants staying in city-funded hotels with prepaid debit cards that they can use to buy food and baby supplies at select stores.

Over the next six months, more than 7,300 migrants will be issued debit cards at a cost of about $2.6 million, officials told the New York Times.

Migrants staying in hotels converted into shelters under the city’s 28-day housing voucher program are eligible.

The pilot program, part of a contract with Mobility Capital Finance, first launched in March and started with about 3,000 migrants. It served as a potential replacement for a waste-generating meal delivery program that was projected to cost $5.6 million — more than double the price tag of the food debit card program — over the next six months.

The pilot program will also convert 14 additional hotels into shelters, bringing the total to 17 hotels that can serve about 1,230 migrants per month, the Times reported. That’s about 2% of the more than 65,000 migrants the city’s shelter system supports.

The program could potentially cost $53 million.

The expansion comes as officials try to reduce the cost of caring for migrants. The city is legally required to provide food and shelter to migrants under its “right to shelter” law, and more than 200,000 migrants have arrived in the past two years.

The debit cards will be loaded with $12.52 per person, per day for 28 days, Mayor Eric Adams’ chief of staff, Camille Joseph Varlack, said. The money can only be used at bodegas, grocery stores and convenience stores.

Government-funded programs such as SNAP and WIC already use similar prepaid cards.

The program drew widespread backlash when it was first announced in February, with people expressing fears that the cards would be abused. Texas Governor Greg Abbott said the program “seems like there’s some madness behind it.”

However, officials said the fraud prevention measures have been successful and the pilot has reduced costs, according to the New York Times.

The cards are digitally encrypted so they only work at certain stores. In addition, migrants must sign a declaration stating that they will only use the cards for food and baby supplies. Otherwise, they risk being kicked out of the program.

“There is no free money,” Deputy Mayor Fabien Levy said at a press conference in March. “These are not debit cards. You cannot withdraw money with them.”