City officials, for a second day, apologized to the public for a delay in the distribution and activation of thousands of debit cards that are supposed to help needy families hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic purchase food items during the final weeks of the year.
As of Tuesday night, 751 out of 3,700-plus cards distributed had activated their cards, said Amy Asselbaye, the city’s director of economic revitalization.
“Our contractor has been having difficulty in activating the City Cards,” Asselbaye said.
“We’re receiving more than 700 calls daily in response, so we’re doing everything we can in the Office of Economic Revitalization to help folks,” she said. “We appreciate your patience, we want to get this relief to you, we want you to be able to get groceries and other basis necessities … We apologize for the difficulties in activating your card and please work with us, use one of (several) … options.”
The City Card program, first announced by Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell on Nov. 30, provides $500 debit cards for the families to spend on groceries and other basic necessities. The funding is through the federal CARES Act, however, and the city said recipients would need to spend the money by Sunday. All CARES Act funds are supposed to be expended by Jan. 31, so the Sunday deadline was chosen to give the city time to find other ways of spending what money might still be left.
There may be an extension for the time the card can be used if President Donald Trump signs the massive coronavirus relief and stimulus package, which includes a clause allowing for CARES Act money to be used through 2021 instead of lapsing on Dec. 31. But that’s unknown at this point, Asselbaye said.
Recipients now have four ways to activate the cards:
>> An internet site constructed by vendor MoCaFi allows recipients to activate the cards. The site is at mocafi.com/irc/. The city’s call center is calling recipients to let them know about the site, city officials said.
>> Downloading the MoCaFi smartphone application through the Apple App Store or Google Play, from where they can activate the cards.
>> Dialing in to 1-800-342-7374 from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Hawaii time, which was the original activation method. The system was overwhelmed by callers, leading to the activation issues. Additional staffing is also being provided by MoCaFi to help those callers who choose to phone in as originally designed.
>> Recipients still having difficulties should call the city’s general COVID-18 hotline at 768-CITY (2489) and provide call center workers with their information and they will assist in activating the cards.
“Apparently, that 800 number, because they received a rush of calls, was shut down thinking that they were getting slammed,” Asselbaye said. “That’s what we were told. That’s all we know. It’s not a city-operated call number.”
She stressed that recipients should never be asked, nor should they give, their Social Security numbers or other personal information.
Last week, media reports surfaced of a delay in the delivery of the cards. City officials said that was due to holiday- and weather-related postal service issues encountered by New York-based MoCaFi.