Tool to protect EBT cardholders released


Gov. Kathy Hochul announced a new tool intended to protect residents on government assistance from criminals trying to steal their benefits through skimming devices.

As of Feb. 21, there is an Electronic Benefit Transfer lock/unlock tool on the ConnectEBT app that allows card users to lock their cards when not in use to prevent scammers from accessing their cards.

“Low-income New Yorkers shopping for food and other essential items for their families should never have to find out at the checkout that their benefits have been stolen by scammers,” Hochul said in a press release. “We will continue to take action to protect New Yorkers from scam-related theft and ensure that EBT cardholders have effective tools to protect their benefits.”

Several people in greater Riverdale have reported being victims of such scams regarding their Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits. Criminals attempt to steal benefits via a card skimmer, a hidden device placed over card reading machines at stores. When a person puts in their card, the thieves are able to copy their EBT card and personal identification number information.

The locking feature aims to prevent skimming theft by letting users lock their card with ease after making a purchase. Once it is locked, the card blocks all purchases, balance inquiries and transactions on the card.

“The unconscionable practice of skimming benefits from households’ EBT cards robs individuals and families with children of vital benefits they need to purchase food and other basic necessities,” said Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance Acting Commissioner Barbara Guinn. “We are grateful for Governor Hochul’s support of these determined efforts to increase awareness of skimming and provide vulnerable New Yorkers with essential tools to protect themselves from benefit theft.”

Hochul previously signed legislation in December mandating stores that accept EBT cards to warn customers of skimming and ways to protect themselves. The OTDA, which oversees SNAP and Public Assistance in the state, began accepting applications for replacement benefits in August and has reimbursed more than $20 million in stolen benefits through the end of December, Hochul’s release stated.

Espaillat urges battle vs. college hate crimes

U.S. Rep. Adriano Espaillat sent a letter to the U.S. Department of Justice and FBI asking them to redouble their efforts to protect students and faculty from hate crimes amid a rise in such anti-religious crimes on college campuses. The Feb. 14 letter was endorsed by the Anti-Defamation League and signed by several congress members.

“The current surge in Islamophobic and antisemitic hate crimes on college campuses, particularly since the recent outbreak of the war in the Middle East, necessitates a comprehensive response from federal law enforcement,” Espaillat said in a press release. “In December 2023, I introduced the Combating Hate Across Campus Act (H.R. 6883), which would require college campuses to independently track, record, and report information on hate crimes to local and federal law enforcement.”

In the letter members called for the two agencies to release timely hate crime data and how they respond to outbreaks of violence on campuses. They cited two of those incidents since Oct. 7. One where a Cornell University student made antisemitic threats to commit a mass shooting and another where a driver at Stanford University targeted an Arab Muslim student with his car while shouting Islamophobia epithets.

Adams cancels next round of budget cuts

A 5 percent cut to all city agency budgets is being reversed, Mayor Eric Adams announced on Feb. 21. In a press release his administration credited the cancellation as a direct result of decisive actions early on to stabilize the budget through strong fiscal management and a higher economic performance in 2023 than projected. It was also credited to 10 percent cuts in asylum seeker spending.

In a press release Adams said, “The combination of our tough, but necessary financial management decisions, including cutting asylum seeker spending by billions of dollars, along with better-than-expected economic performance in 2023, is allowing us to cancel the last round of spending cuts, as well as lift the near total freezes on city hiring and other than personal spending.”

According to the release, the 10 percent budget cut comes on top of a 20 percent asylum seeker program to eliminate the gap in the preliminary budget, which has helped save more than $1.7 billion in city spending. They also said they achieved a record $6.6 billion in such savings over FY24 and FY25 for the November Financial Plan and Preliminary Budget.

The city has provided care for more than 178,600 asylum seekers, with about 65,000 still in the city’s care. More than 60 percent of the asylum seekers who’ve gone through the city’s intake center have taken the next steps toward self-sufficiency, the press release said.

“Make no mistake — we are not yet out of the woods, as we still need Albany and Washington, D.C. to play their roles in providing New Yorkers with additional support,” Adams said. “But this new chapter is the result of a full collaboration across city government, our nonprofit partners, and so many others, and will allow us to continue to deliver on our mission for a safer, cleaner, more prosperous New York City for all.

Villaverde appointed judge advocate

Community Board 8 Vice Chair Sergio Villaverde was appointed the judge advocate for the New York Naval Militia, effective Dec. 19, 2023. The announcement made by the Law Offices of Sergio Villaverde, PLLC, on Jan. 23 said Villaverde will bring a wealth of experience, legal expertise and leadership, as well as contribute to the organization’s commitment to upholding justice, integrity and excellence in service.

The founder of the community based matrimonial family law and meditation practice and a certified mediator graduated from John F. Kennedy High School. He enlisted in the U.S. Coast Guard Reserve in 1986, while also serving as an EMT in the city. He was a Community Police Officer in the 52nd Precinct where he worked more than 10 years.

Through 1987-1997, Villaverde received an associate of arts degree from LaGuardia Community College, a bachelor of arts in political science with honors from the City College of New York and a juris doctor from Fordham University School of law.

He has spent much of his career serving in military, legal, law enforcement and senior leadership roles. He served as a reservist during the Gulf War, was activated to service Sept. 11, 2001, National Security Response to Persian Gulf Hostilities and the 2020 Response to the Deep Water Horizon oil spill, according to his press release.

Vilaverde, who retired with 32 years of experience in the U.S. Coast Guard Reserve, has received commendations for service in numerous operations and was appointed by the governor to the New York State Veterans Cemetery Commission. He has also served as a chairman of a local youth services corporation, a volunteer attorney for battered women and as a chair of the Community Planning Board’s Economic Development Committee.

The New York Naval Militia’s mission includes providing training and equipped personnel to respond to state and federal emergencies, supporting law enforcement and ensuring the security of New York’s waterways, the release state

Kathy Hochul, EBT, SNAP, cards, Barbara Guinn, Adriano Espaillat, hate crimes, ADL, Sergio Villaverde, Eric Adams, judge advocate, New York City, budget,