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NYC’s Migrant Debit Card Controversy

The taxpayer-funded generosity continues apace.

As waves of illegal immigrants continue to cross the US southern border, cities, states, and towns across the nation are buckling under the fiscal weight of providing services in the form of legal protections, food, housing, clothing,  and medical care. Some lawmakers are going even further in their taxpayer-funded generosity. New York City Mayor Eric Adams is coming under fire for his debit card program, and not just because it could give a migrant family up to $10,000.

Adams’ Debit Card Program

Giving migrants a debit card is nothing new. As Liberty Nation reported, the United Nations has been providing such benefits to illegal immigrants to help them get to the United States. However, Big Apple citizens are not too pleased with their mayor’s newest attempt to deal with the influx of the undocumented. In fact, the city comptroller, Brad Lander, declared that Adams has had too much leeway to sign emergency contracts, saying migrant spending needs to be approved by his office first.

This is the result of the $432 million no-bid contract with DocGo, which supplied immigrants with less-than-satisfactory food – moldy sandwiches and more — which led to a lot of consumables uneaten and wasted. The New York Post wrote that the agency provides three meals daily and throws away up to 5,000 meals a day, which costs taxpayers about $7.2 million annually.

As a way to cut back on costs and waste, Adams proposed a debit card solution. The $53 million pilot program, Immediate Response Card, is designed to provide 500 migrants with a card that can be used to purchase only food and baby supplies. There is some confusion as to how much money will be loaded on these cards. They can hold up to $10,000, but officials say they don’t see them ever maxing out to that. A family of four would receive $1,440 per month, reloaded every 28 days. Basically, it comes out to $350.56 per person, according to The New York Times.

Giving migrants a debit card isn’t the only concern, though. The fact that the city’s Housing Preservation & Development (HPD) chose Newark, NJ-based Mobility Capital Finance (MoCaFi), a local bank without much experience, is causing a stir. Bypassing the Big Apple’s hundreds of top-tier financial services organizations, HPD instead chose an institution founded by a former managing director at JPMorgan, Chase, Wole C. Coaxum, who said he was inspired to start the company after the 2014 death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, MO. He aims to serve the “underbanked” and “narrow the racial wealth gap.” HPD said the only experience MoCaFi had with the city was small-scale support in the city’s participatory budget program, The Post explained. Its nationwide experience is for pre-paid third-party debit cards geared toward minorities.

GettyImages-1835175236 migrants

(Photo by Andrew Lichtenstein/Corbis via Getty Images)

The concern here is that the pilot program is supposed to dole out the cards to only 500 families at just over $1,000 per month, depending on the size of the family, which would cost around $6 million; that’s a vast difference from the $53 million assigned to the program. The contract signed by the city states that over the year’s term, “In exchange for [MoCaFi’s] … performance of the services, the city shall pay to the contractor a total amount not to exceed $53 [million] … in accordance with the scope of services and fees.”

Yet, The Post pointed out that the “’scope of services’ does not include the money that the migrants actually receive on their debit card.” So, MoCaFi issues blank MasterCards in bulk and the city installs the funds. Furthermore, the outlet explained, “MoCaFi not only makes money from each card distributed, but gets a 3% fee on the first $50 million the city puts on the cards – that is, $1.5 million.”

While some may compare the debit card program to other assistance such as SNAP food stamps, there are some differences. The contract states that “cardholders will not be subject to ID verification” and “the city shall be responsible for the accurate delivery” of the cards to “consumers.” The city will also be responsible for the security of the cards until they reach the cardholders. Even though officials insist the cards will never likely reach their $10,000 limit, critics say this is a dangerous move. City employees and contract workers will be in charge of giving migrants a debit card without proof of identity. Furthermore, these cards can be given to children. According to the contract, “if [cards] are to be distributed to any person under the age of 18 … the city … shall confirm that the minor cardholder’s parent or guardian has consented to the minor’s acceptance and use of the card,” as reported by The Post.

While officials insist the cards can be used only at grocery and convenience stores, supermarkets, and bodegas, The Post argued that the contract states, “Cardholders can pay for any goods/services at any business merchant that accepts Mastercard.” NYC can even choose to allow the illegal immigrants to withdraw cash. “ATM withdrawal amounts per day can be restricted as required by the city,” according to the contract. “Should ATM access be included as part of the program, card fees will be subject to the schedule provided.”

So even though lawmakers claim these cards can be used only for groceries and baby supplies, the language in the contract allows a lot more leeway.

Earlier this month, Adams said at a news conference, “We need to dispel the rumor that we gave American Express cards to everyone. That is just not true.”

When it comes to MoCaFi, Adams said he wanted to give the company a chance for a couple of reasons, one of those being it hires women- and minority-owned businesses. “This company has a unique way that I would like to see if it’s successful to expand on using a product of this nature,” he claimed. Coaxum, founder of MoCaFi, disregarded the claim that his business does not have enough experience. He said in a New York Times interview, “We’re in a position to give people a tool that allows them to efficiently get access to resources, allows them to be able to have choice, allows them to put dollars back into the community – that’s what we’re all about.”

As taxpayers continue to fork out money, it seems the only ones cleaning up are hotels, banks, and especially illegal migrants.

Read More From Kelli Ballard

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