2007_03_oppty.jpgThe city is embarking on a new pilot program to offer cash to poor families to motivate them to "break the cycle of intergenerational poverty." The public-private plan which has raised $42 million in private funds so far is called Opportunity NYC, and Mayor Bloomberg said, "If you’re serious about tackling poverty, an entrenched problem that has proven resistant to conventional government programs, you have to be serious about trying new things, taking a new tack. That’s what we’re here to do today." From the press release:

- Education incentives will promote superior attendance and good behavior in school, achievement and improved performance on standardized tests, and parental engagement in children’s education.
- Health incentives will be offered to maintain adequate health coverage for all children and adults in participant households as well as age-appropriate medical and dental visits for each family member.
- Employment and training incentives will promote increased employment and earnings or combine work activities with specific job training activities.

For instance, exemplary attendance in elementary could earn $25 every two months, while exemplary high school attendance earns $50. Getting high scores on exams is worth $200-300, and things like going for check-ups or keeping a job would also be rewards. The city estimates families will earn $3,000-5,000.

The NY Times reports that there is a "similar effort in Mexico," and spoke to some critics: One said, "It will be, in fact, impossible to bring more people into the middle class unless we improve the labor market as well.” A Manhattan Institute fellow told the NY Sun, "It could destroy the ordinary incentive system that usually motivates people to engage in good" behavior. You are going to create in people the expectation that they should do such proper things as take their children to school or study only if they are bribed by the government. I think the potential for unintentional consequences for this program are absolutely enormous."

The program will use private funding during the pilot, which will be offered to 5,000 families (half in the control group) in Central and East Harlem in Manhattan, Brownsville and East New York in Brooklyn, and Morris Heights/Mount Hope and East Tremont/Belmont in the Bronx. The Post says that families will have to have children enrolled in grades 4, 7, or 9, and "The families couldn't earn more than 130 percent of the poverty level, or about $20,000 a year for a single parent and two kids." If the program is successful, the city will look for government funding. The Rockefeller Foundation, Starr Foundation, Robin Hood Foundation, Open Society Institute and AIG have contributed a total of $32 million; it's unclear how much Mayor Bloomberg may have personally contributed.

What do you think of this program? Do you think it has legs? Or is it a better concept?