Many New Yorkers who use food stamps or receive public assistance found a surprise when they checked their EBT balance on Tuesday: An extra $200 or more per school-aged child.
The money was a one-time grant given to more than 800,000 children in low-income families across the state. The back-to-school supplement gives $200 per school-aged child from ages 3 through 17.
Check cashing centers across the city were filled with people spilling out of the door on Tuesday. Families were scrambling to get money they had received that many didn’t know they were getting.
Stacy Brown of Harlem said that she found out through a friend that she had extra money on her EBT card. Brown is the mother of a school-aged son. “My best friend called me and said, ‘Check your card,’” she said. “I thought it was money for child support, but then I found out what it was for.”
While check cashing centers were the format of choice for many people to get the money, banks also serviced people. Several major chain banks were filled with customers lined up to use the ATM.
“I got $400,”said one woman outside of a Harlem check cashing center. “I can’t go to the bank because I have an old card and I can’t swipe.”
Many people waited in line for hours, some with their children. Check cashing centers that are open 24 hours saw an influx of customers late into the night.
According to the Gov. David Paterson’s office, the money was placed in accounts for each eligible family that can be accessed with the EBT card. People have 90 days to claim the cash.
Two-thirds of eligible recipients of the back-to-school supplements are in food stamp-only households. The majority of these house-holds are low-income working families or families getting unemployment benefits.
In total, $175 million from President Barack Obama’s stimulus package was used for the program. Funds came from the Open Society Institute (OSI), which committed $35 million from its Foundation to Promote Open Society to the State Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance. An additional $140 million in federal funds came from the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families emergency contingency fund.
Paterson made the announcement of the available money on Tuesday along with billionaire George Soros of OSI at P.S. 208 in Harlem. According to reports, Soros is a financer and philanthropist worth $11 billion, making him the 29th richest person in the world.
“This first-of-its-kind partnership in New York is an example of how the public and private sectors can work together to foster a brighter future for the low-income families of our state,” Paterson said. “These $200 grants will provide thousands of families with a much-needed financial boost so that they can better meet the needs of their children as they prepare to go back to school.”
Paterson added that the money is a continuation of his commitment to using economic stimulus funds to help needy New Yorkers and bolster the state’s economy. Mayor Michael Bloomberg said the money would not only help out families with children who are going back to school but also help the city’s economy during back-to-school retail sales.
He said, “Over the past year in New York City, we’ve attacked the national recession by doing more than ever to connect New Yorkers to employment, job training and the critical financial supports they need. Governor Paterson and I agree that New York’s brightest days are still ahead of us and we will continue to work hard for those in need.” The money can be used to buy school supplies like pens, pencils, notebooks and backpacks. Tutoring, school uniforms and other clothing can also be purchased. The governor’s office is encouraging families to take advantage of discounts and sales offered by retailers.
Some retailers like Old Navy are offering discounts to people who received money. Recipients who present an EBT card and ID receive a 10 percent discount on back-to-school purchases.
While office supplies store Staples wouldn’t comment on sales trends at its stores, Mark Crowly of the company said that discounts are going on now at Staples for people to come in and stock up. “We’ve reduced 250 of our back-to-school products,” he said. “We also have penny deals and dollar deals.” Lazarus Department Store on 125th Street, which sells children’s clothing, has seen an increase in customers since people received their money, according to the manager.
“More people are starting to come in,” she said. “They definitely appreciate it. I think it’s going to be good for business as long as it lasts.” “A new school year can be overwhelming enough for families in good economic times,” said Schools Chancellor Joel Klein. “Thanks to this innovative public-private partnership, they won’t have the extra burden of worrying about the cost of basic supplies and their children will have the tools they need to start the year off right.”
Critics of the money give-away say there is no guarantee that people who are getting the funds will use it towards school supplies. Republican Senate Leader Dean Skelos said the move is an “irresponsible” use of stimulus money. “The governor’s new plan, which he developed in secret with no legislative input, is little more than free money available at ATMs,” he said. “It is a plan that is ripe for fraud and abuse that could be continued for years, saddling taxpayers with a questionable public assistance program at a time when they have already had enough of increasing spending and taxes.”