By Tom Ozimek
Illegal immigrants in the Big Apple will soon start receiving pre-paid debit cards that they must pledge only to buy food with under a $53 million pilot program, according to New York City records and media reports.
Records indicate that New York City has awarded a $53 million contract to a company called Mobility Capital Finance (MoCaFi), which will launch and pilot the pre-paid cards—called Immediate Response Cards.
Under the program, MoCaFi will begin delivering the cards to the Roosevelt Hotel, which is the first touchpoint for newly-arriving illegal immigrants in New York City, where MoCaFi staff will hand the cards out “directly to asylum seekers receiving financial assistance.”
The first to receive the cards will be families with children under the care of NYC’s Housing Preservation and Development (HPD) agency.
“MoCaFi looks forward to partnering with New York City to disburse funds for asylum seekers to purchase fresh, hot food,” MoCaFi CEO and founder Wole Coaxum said in a statement to the New York Post.
“MoCaFi’s goal is to expand access to financial resources for individuals excluded from banking, such as asylum seekers, while helping the local economy.”
New York City Councilman Joe Borelli had a critical take on the program, telling Fox 5 NY that it’s providing illegal immigrants with services on the taxpayer dime.
“We’re just giving this migrant population more free stuff at the expense of New York City taxpayers,” he told the outlet.
It comes as taxpayers in New York City face sharp cuts to services like policing and education because the city has had to divert money to cover expenses associated with the influx of illegal immigrants to the Big Apple.
New York City Mayor Eric Adams’s office said that the program will initially start by providing the pre-paid cards to 500 families, with restrictions on what they can spend the money on.
“We will provide pre-paid debit cards to an initial 500 migrant families with children who may use the pre-paid cards exclusively at bodegas, grocery stores, supermarkets, and convenience stores to ensure the money is spent on food and baby supplies,” reads the City Hall statement, according to Fox 5 NY.
Recipients will have to sign an affidavit promising to spend the money on the cards only on food and baby supplies, otherwise they will be removed from the program, according to the New York Post.
The size of the family will affect the amount provided on the pre-paid cards, with a family of four set to receive around $1,000 per month, according to the Post.
Neither HPD nor Mr. Adams’s office replied to a request for more details about the program.
However, a spokesperson for Mr. Adams’s office told the Post that the program will make it easier for qualifying families to get the food of their choice—and will save the city money.
“Not only will this provide families with the ability to purchase fresh food for their culturally relevant diets and the baby supplies of their choosing, but the pilot program is expected to save New York City more than $600,000 per month, or more than $7.2 million annually,” said Kayla Mamelak, the mayor’s spokesperson.
Illegal Immigration Crisis
It comes as New York City has faced an illegal immigration crisis of epic proportions, with Mr. Adams saying in December that “more than 157,000 migrants have arrived at our door since last year—1.5 the size of the city of Albany.”
“An entire city was dropped into New York City,” the mayor said.
In a State of the City address at the end of January, Mr. Adams revealed that the number had grown to 172,000.
“We have helped more than 172,000 asylum seekers by providing food, asylum, and medical care. We have helped tens of thousands file applications to extend, temporarily, their status and to seek employment,” he said, while expressing support for using city resources to help illegal immigrants, despite public outcry over the disruption of the crisis on New Yorkers’ daily lives.
Amid the influx, Mr. Adams has walked a fine line between empathy and criticism.
For instance, he warned in September 2023 that the unending influx of illegal immigrants would “destroy New York City.”
He has also pleaded for federal help, while lamenting that the Biden administration’s lack of action was leaving cities to fend for themselves.