Complaints swipe at city’s $100 vaccine payment card tech problems

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People wait to get vaccine shots at the American Museum of Natural History.
Photo courtesy Ed Reed/Mayoral Photography Office

This article was originally published on by THE CITY

Thousands of New Yorkers have struggled to redeem their $100 vaccine incentive debit cards — some for weeks — as the company that administers them says it is trying to resolve issues with sign-ups.

FiCentive, a division of the San Antonio-based financial technology firm Usio that supplies the debit cards, received a $50 million no-bid contract first approved last August by board members of the city Economic Development Corp., records show.

Former Mayor Bill de Blasio announced the incentives last year, promising the bonus to anyone receiving a vaccine — and, later, a booster-dose — at designated vaccination sites.

The city has processed some 7,000 complaints about the Akimbo-brand vaccine incentive cards since the initiative launched in July, according to City Hall spokesperson Jonah Allon, who added that “more than 730,000 cards have been distributed.”

At participating vaccine sites offering the $100 perk, New Yorkers have the option to receive their gift card via postal mail — with wait times up to four weeks — or they can sign up with Akimbo via e-mail to obtain a one-time code in order to unlock the funds on a virtual card.

That’s where some users have reportedly experienced issues — resorting to Twitter threads and Reddit forums to figure out how to get their money.

Williamsburg resident Molly Heintz opted for her 8-year-old son to receive his $100 credit card through the mail after receiving his second dose of the vaccine in November at a Long Island City site – but was only able to unlock the funds this week.

It took Heintz numerous attempts over the past two months to log in to Akimbo and eight calls to the company’s customer service to redeem the card, she said.

Akimbo, which did not respond to a request for comment, has a disclaimer on its website that reads: “We are currently experiencing intermittent issues with login and account management. We are working to resolve these issues as quickly as possible. We are sorry for the inconvenience.”

“It was notably challenging” to get the money, Heintz said. “I think maybe some forecasting on the amount of volume of requests, or whatever infrastructural support needs to be in place. It’s critical for something like this to work smoothly.”

The EDC’s executive committee initially approved the FiCentive deal in August, committing to $20.3 million before expanding to $50.9 million the following month. Besides the prepaid $100 vaccine incentive cards, FiCentive is also in charge of a contest that promised to give away an additional $2,500 each to at least 10 lucky winners among those who got the shots.

A spokesperson for EDC did not respond to THE CITY’s request for comment.

People experiencing difficulties signing up for Akimbo should call Akimbo at 1-855-449-2273 or the vax hotline at 877-VAX4NYC, Allon said.

THE CITY is an independent, nonprofit news outlet dedicated to hard-hitting reporting that serves the people of New York.

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