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NYC Faces Backlash Over Expanded Debit Card Program For Migrants

James King, MPA
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New York City is expanding its controversial pre-paid debit card program for migrants, a move that has sparked significant debate. Mayor Eric Adams’s administration plans to provide these cards to over 7,300 migrant families living in hotels funded by taxpayer dollars, at an estimated cost of $2.6 million over six months. This expansion builds on an initial pilot program that served approximately 3,000 migrants.

Mayor Adams defended the program, describing it as a cost-efficient alternative to the current system of distributing non-perishable food boxes. The initiative, in partnership with Mobility Capital Finance, allows families with young children to receive up to $350 per week, equating to roughly $18,200 annually.

The program has been met with opposition from various quarters. Critics, including New York Council member Joseph Borelli, argue that the debit card initiative is “fundamentally unfair” to the city’s working poor, who do not receive comparable benefits. Borelli and other Republicans claim that the city’s right to shelter law and sanctuary policies are drawing an unprecedented number of migrants to New York.


Additionally, conservative lawmakers note that the weekly $350 provided to migrants exceeds the average monthly $291 given to low-income, elderly, and disabled citizens through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). With more than 183,000 asylum seekers arriving in New York City over the past year, the city’s expenditure on migrant services is expected to exceed $10 billion.

Critics argue that the funds used for the debit card program and other migrant services could be better allocated to support New York’s existing low-income residents. As the debate continues, the city must navigate the complex challenges of providing for migrants while addressing the concerns of its citizens.