Chelsea Eats Program Rolls Out in Earnest Just in Time for Thanksgiving

The Chelsea Eats debit card program – one of the first such municipal programs in the nation – has been nearly fully deployed for those who won the chance in the lottery last month, that allowed 2,000 residents to get a set amount loaded on their new cards every month through March.

Council President Roy Avellaneda said he would like to see the Assessor’s Office begin to capture values better for larger residential buildings. He said he expects the problems he sees to be worked out by next year.
Councilor Giovanni Recupero said the two-family and three-family homeowners are being unfairly burdened because larger apartment buildings aren’t paying according to their true property value.

After a number of logistical issues that had to be ironed out, City Manager Tom Ambrosino said the Chelsea Eats program started in earnest last week just before Thanksgiving, when the first amount was deposited onto the cards. The cards are procured through a Visa provider and can be used at any store in the region.

“We distributed the cards to residents at City Hall the week before Thanksgiving,” he said. “We distributed about 1,500 cards of the 2,000 cards that we announced to lottery winners. We loaded that batch of cards with the first installment of money on the Tuesday before Thanksgiving and so far everything is going well.”

The City has committed to funding the first two months, including last Tuesday’s money and another loading in December before Christmas. Meanwhile, two donors have submitted large donations to the City to fund the months of January and February.

“That should get people to the end of March and hopefully there is a vaccine and everyone is able and everyone is back to work,” he said.

The donations came from the Shah Family Foundation and the United Way, both of which like the idea of Universal Basic Income. Ambrosino said he isn’t so much interested in that, but says it could help them secure more funding for beyond March.

“It’s possible we could get more donations for that concept, but for now we can get people to March,” he added.

The card is provided by Prepaid Expense Card Solutions, Inc. out of New York, and they have been a good partner with the City on this trailblazing program. He said the City would incur less than $10,000 in fees for the program, which officially can go until June 30, 2021 if there is funding.

Those who have the card get a set amount based on family size, Ambrosino said. Those with three or more in a family get $400 per load, two in a family get $300 and a single person gets $200.

The lottery was weighted to favor those who had more children, who were elderly, disabled, veterans or were in deep poverty. There was also a check for those who were already receiving state or federal public assistance. No one qualified unless they were under 100 percent of the federal poverty line, which is about 30 percent of AMI in Greater Boston.

Ambrosino said there are about 500 cards that weren’t picked up and they have reached out to those individuals, but their contact information isn’t helping. Letters have gone out, but it is assumed many moved on since the application period last August. Anyone not living in Chelsea does not qualify for the program.

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