Fact-check: NYC giving prepaid debit cards to some migrants

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New York City is launching a pilot program that will give some migrants prepaid cards that can only be used to buy food and baby supplies.

As New York City continues to see a surge of migrants who have overwhelmed the city’s shelters, social media posts claim they will receive new cash benefits. 

Some federal lawmakers, including U.S. Reps. Lance Gooden (R-Texas) and Wesley Hunt (R-Texas), and news headlines claim New York City is launching a program to provide prepaid cards to migrant families.

A VERIFY reader texted us to ask whether those claims are true. 

THE QUESTION

Is New York City giving out prepaid cards to migrants? 

THE SOURCES

THE ANSWER

This needs context.

New York City is launching a pilot program to provide prepaid debit cards to some migrants that can only be used to purchase food or baby supplies at certain types of stores. These cards would replace a current program that provides boxed food to migrants.

WHAT WE FOUND

New York City is launching a pilot program to provide 500 migrant families with prepaid debit cards that they can only use to buy food or baby supplies at certain types of stores in the city. 

The $53 million pilot program is meant to be a more cost-effective alternative to “the city’s current system of providing non-perishable food boxes to migrant families staying in hotels,” a spokesperson for New York City Mayor Eric Adams said. 

“What had been happening in this particular program is that every couple of days, we were going to the hotel and we were delivering food,” Adams’ chief of staff Camille Joseph Varlack said during a Feb. 5 media briefing. “And so what ended up happening is you have the cost for the food itself as well as the cost for delivery services.”

The new pilot program providing migrants with prepaid debit cards will save the city an estimated $600,000 per month and $7.2 million per year, the mayor’s office said.

A spokesperson for MoCaFi, a financial technology company the city is partnering with for the pilot program, said the cards will be loaded with about $12 per person per day for 28 days.

Participants will only be allowed to use the prepaid cards at bodegas, grocery stores, supermarkets and convenience stores to buy food and baby supplies, a spokesperson for Adams confirmed. 

The MoCaFi spokesperson added that “card usage will be restricted to grocery and convenience stores’ merchant category codes for purchasing food,” meaning they can’t be used to buy other types of items. 

All families involved in the program will also be “required to sign an affidavit affirming that they will be using these cards for the intended purposes, and anyone who violates the terms risks being removed from the pilot program,” Adams’ spokesperson said.

Adams’ office and MoCaFi did not confirm a specific start date for the pilot program, but the MoCaFi spokesperson said it will launch later in February. 

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Fact-check: NYC giving prepaid debit cards to some migrants

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