On Friday the Bundestag traffic light wants to approve the payment card for asylum seekers. Courts could still have a say in implementation.

A person holds a payment card in his hand during a press conference.

Payment card instead of cash for asylum seekers

SEDAN taz | According to the agenda, the debate in the Bundestag will end on Friday at 10:20 a.m. The subsequent vote is just a formality, the amendment to the Asylum Seeker Benefits Act has already been firmly agreed upon. Other Image-The headlines may still make headlines during the debate, but afterwards the Greens have survived the worst.

“Once again! Greens block payment cards,” headlined the tabloid at the beginning of March, followed by a series of unflattering texts. “Blocking payment cards: Is this how the Greens further strengthen to the AfD?”, “Due to the Green blockade: the Union is losing patience with payment cards” or: “Payment cards are coming! The Greens are giving in.”

These headlines are only partially correct. On March 1, the Federal Cabinet agreed to a change in the law requested by the federal states: the traffic light should clearly and legally stipulate that benefits are allowed to be paid to asylum seekers using payment cards instead of cash. Depending on the design, these cards can only be used for purchases in stores, but not for withdrawing money or making transfers. The reason: the authorities would have to make less efforts, refugees would not be able to give money to their traffickers and Germany would become less attractive as a refugee destination.

The FDP in particular pushed for the law change to be passed quickly. However, the Greens parliamentary group needed negotiations more than their ministers. He asked that the project be discussed calmly in parliament, as is usual in legislative procedures. Especially since the Cabinet decision was already accompanied by an inspection order, that is, a note that the traffic light had not yet agreed on the details.

ProAsyl fears exclusion

What was especially controversial was exactly which groups the payment card was suitable for. This was the consensus among refugees who are relatively new to the country and still living in government accommodation. The current law already stipulates that the authorities can provide them with benefits in kind instead of cash.

The situation is different for refugees who have lived in Germany long enough to receive social benefits analogous to citizen benefits. Previously this occurred after 18 months. The traffic light recently increased the term to 36 months. For them, until now cash benefits have taken priority over benefits in kind. Under Cabinet plans, states and municipalities should also be allowed to switch to payment cards. The Greens wanted to exclude at least some of this group from the new regulations, especially employees, apprentices and students. They didn't get that.

But it is also a mistake that the Bundestag is now implementing the cabinet plans “without changes in content”, as FDP parliamentary group deputy Lukas Köhler recently stressed. Instead, those affected must be able to access at least some of the cash benefits in the future.

According to the final bill, it must be ensured that those receiving analogue services can actually pay the “standard monthly requirements”. This formulation hides items such as club memberships, bus tickets, or change for school trips. In other words, expenses for which a cash card without a transfer or withdrawal function is not practical. The bill provides for a similar exception for refugees who have not been in the country for 36 months but already live in their own apartments.

Prevented participation

The law does not establish exactly how much money must be available in cash. Design is a matter for states and municipalities. At one end of the possible scale are models such as that of Hannover, where payment cards have existed for a long time under the mayor of the Greens, Belit Onay: those affected can withdraw the full amount there. The only objective was to reduce the effort for the refugees and the administration.

On the contrary, the CDU asks that in Brandenburg and Bremen payments be limited to a maximum of 50 euros. It is questionable whether this would be sufficient to meet the requirements of the new legal situation. But the courts will probably have to decide this in the future.

With the payment card, refugees in many places would be “even more excluded and restricted in even the smallest everyday decisions,” criticizes Wiebke Judith from Pro Asyl. But the card will not prevent anyone from “fleeing persecution or war.”

The economist and migration scientist Herbert Brücker thinks the same. “The introduction of the payment card will probably have negative effects on integration and participation, will cause non-negligible costs for the State and will not achieve its objective of reducing refugee migration,” he explains in a statement for the Dezim Institute. The German Bar Association (DAV) foresees “a large number of opposition, urgency and litigation procedures.” A “significant additional burden on the administration and the judiciary” can be expected.