In a move that has sparked debate, the Adams administration in New York City has launched a pilot program to provide prepaid debit cards to migrant families staying in city-leased hotels. The program, which aims to replace the current system of distributing non-perishable food boxes, has faced criticism over the city’s handling of the contract and the potential financial implications.

The prepaid debit card program was first announced in January, with the city inking a controversial $53 million, no-bid contract with the New Jersey-based company Mobility Capital Finance (MoCaFi) to administer the initiative. However, it took two months before the city actually began handing out the cards, with staffers from MoCaFi distributing just 8 preloaded Mastercards at the Roosevelt Hotel on Monday as part of the pilot program.The delayed rollout and lack of transparency around the program have raised concerns among city officials and the public. City Councilmember Gale Brewer, who heads the Council’s oversight and investigations committee, has expressed a desire to investigate the contract, questioning whether the city could have secured a better deal through a competitive bidding process.

The prepaid debit card program is designed to save the city an estimated $600,000 per month, or $7.2 million annually, by replacing the current system of providing non-perishable food boxes to migrant families. However, the contract with MoCaFi includes various fees that could potentially benefit the company, including a $125,000 one-time setup fee, $250,000 in annual management fees, and additional fees based on the amount of money distributed to migrants.According to the contract, MoCaFi could net up to $1.8 million by taking a cut of the funds loaded onto each Mastercard. This has led to concerns about the financial implications of the program and whether the city is getting the best value for taxpayer money.

The Adams administration has scaled back the original plan for the prepaid debit card program, which would have loaded up the cards with a month’s worth of money for food and baby supplies. Instead, the cash will now need to be replenished on a weekly basis, with a family of two parents and children under five receiving approximately $350 per week.This change in the program’s structure has raised questions about the city’s ability to effectively meet the needs of the migrant families, as the weekly replenishment of funds may create additional administrative challenges and potential disruptions in access to essential supplies.As the city moves forward with the prepaid debit card program, the controversy surrounding its rollout and financial implications is likely to continue, with calls for greater transparency and accountability from city officials and the public.


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