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City Councilmember Gale Brewer wants to investigate pre-paid debit card program for migrant families

Questions raised about NYC program to give migrant families pre-paid debit cards
Questions raised about NYC program to give migrant families pre-paid debit cards 02:57

NEW YORK -- Questions are being raised about a controversial program launched by the Adams administration to give migrant families pre-paid debit cards to buy food and other necessities.

Mayor Eric Adams says giving asylum seekers debit cards to buy their own food will save the city millions, but the head of the City Council's oversight and investigations committee wants to know why the city issued a $53 million no-bid contract without seeing if it could get a better deal.

"I think you should bid it out to see who would do the best job at the best cost for taxpayers," Councilmember Gale Brewer said.

Brewer says she wants to investigate a pilot program launched by the mayor to give asylum seekers pre-paid debit cards that will allow them to by food, baby products and other necessities at supermarkets, bodegas, grocery and convenience stores.

The $53 million contract reviewed by CBS New York gives the firm, Mobility Capital Finance, lots of fees for services, including:

  • A $125,000 one-time set-up fee, 
  • $250,000 in annual management fees,
  • And fees based on how much money is distributed to migrants -- $1.5 million for the first $50 million handed out, and $2.5 million for the next $100 million.

The pilot program will involve 500 families staying in short-term hotels.

According to the contract the most a card can have is $10,000, but most cards will be refilled every four weeks.

A family of four can get about $1,000 -- $35 dollars a day -- and they can buy whatever food they want to eat.

"I don't know exactly how it's going to work. I do see from the release it will be for diapers and baby products and food, but you have to be careful that that's what it's actually going to be for," Brewer said.

Adams insists it's  an innovative way to save money and prevent food waste because many asylum seekers don't eat the food they're given in the hotels and shelters.

He said if the pilot program is successful, "It is going to save us in the area of $7.2 million a year, I believe $600,000 a month."

"Were there other people that could have provided the same service for less money? Are you getting the best bang for your buck?" Kramer asked the mayor.

"Without a doubt," he said.

The mayor insisted that part of the allure of the company was that it was a minority-owned firm.

"WMBs -- you know, women- and minority-owned businesses -- have historically been locked out ... So I know I'm disrupting what people traditionally would like for us to do," Adams said.

The mayor, who has a penchant for surrounding himself with friends and acquaintances, insisted he had no personal relationship with the owner of the company. He said, "We don't hang out in the Hamptons together or go to baseball games together."

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