Natasha Ishak

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After details of the much-awaited Fair Fares NYC Metrocard program were delayed and parts of it cut back, many wonder where that leaves New Yorkers who are disqualified under the new program terms.

The Fair Fares program had promised half-priced metrocards for low-income New Yorkers to ride the subway. But the partial rollout last week confirmed that only recipients of cash assistance or SNAP from the city’s Department of Social Services would be eligible for discounted cards. The reduced fare would also be limited to weekly ($16 from regular $32) and monthly ($60.50 from regular $121) metrocards, not pay-per-rides.

The change in the program’s eligibility requirements and implementation means that only 30,000 New Yorkers will benefit from the discount ride program now. That is a severe reduction from the 800,000 residents living below the city’s poverty line, who would have been eligible under the original Fair Fares terms.

An estimated 33 percent of New York’s poorest residents live in Brooklyn. It’s unclear how many people living in Bushwick receive cash assistance or SNAP, but the neighborhood poverty rate is 28.7 percent compared to the citywide 20.1 percent.

Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Critics also fear that the nature of Fair Fare cutbacks may be particularly detrimental to immigrants. Recent immigrants may be ineligible or not yet enrolled in cash assistance or SNAP, and possibly fearful of enrolling in government programs under the Trump administration.

New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer expressed related concerns in an open letter to the de Blasio administration following the incomplete rollout.

“The good news is that Fair Fares is finally leaving the station. The bad news is that after today’s announcement, the price of a MetroCard will remain an obstacle for the vast majority of the 800,000 New Yorkers who were originally promised relief,” Comptroller Stringer wrote in the letter addressed to the City’s Human Resources Administration (HRA).

He went on to say: 

As you know, not everyone who qualifies for benefits programs available through HRA actually enrolls in them, and many benefits programs exclude recent immigrants and other individuals in need from enrollment.

The city promised that the limited terms are just the first step to phasing in the entire program, which will eventually include low-income residents who are not on SNAP to be eligible for the discounted fares. David Jones, president of anti-poverty group Community Service Society involved in the Fair Fares push, is skeptical of Mayor Bill de Blasio’s “slow walk.”

“Most alarming, however, is the fact that the mayor left unspecified how and when he intends to expand the program to the hundreds of thousands of poor people waiting for reduced fares,” Jones wrote in an op-ed published by Amsterdam News. The city has said that the discounts would ultimately apply to pay-per-ride tickets, planned to launch in April. Just like a typical MTA subway ride, here’s hoping there’s no more delays.

Cover photo courtesy of Ged Carroll.

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