Poor New Yorkers could get cash rewards if they make choices that will help them move out of poverty, such as staying in school or taking higher education courses, as part of the sweeping array of programs to reduce poverty Mayor Bloomberg announced yesterday.
Mr. Bloomberg announced the proposals along with his 32-member antipoverty commission, led by the CEO of Time Warner, Richard Parsons, a possible mayoral candidate for 2009,and the city's antipoverty tsar, Geoffrey Canada.
The cash payments plan, which was not among the commission's recommendations, would cost about $24 million a year and would be funded through private philanthropy. The mayor also said the city would seek approval to provide tax refunds of up to $1,000 for low-income families that need day care for children under age 3, at a cost of $42 million.
Since announcing the antipoverty commission, Mr. Bloomberg vowed to ensure that tax dollars are used wisely and that the city will study ways to shift existing resources, rather than just propose spending more money.
"Long experience has taught us that simply throwing dollars at poverty does not make it go away," Mr. Bloomberg said. "We've learned that lesson.We will target our resources, closely monitor results, and discard what doesn't work."
Many have said the success of the commission would be a defining part of the mayor's legacy. Some have noted that the commission could be important for Mr. Parsons if he decides to run for City Hall in three years.
The poverty plan was met with mixed reviews from both sides of the political spectrum. Some said the mayor was being too generous, some criticized him for too narrowly focusing on three populations, and some offered outright praise.
A professor of political science and sociology at the CUNY Graduate Center, John Mollenkopf, called the plan an investment in "human capital." Mr. Mollenkopf, who helped the commission in studying census numbers, said that if implemented successfully, the plan would go a long way toward increasing the level of the city's labor force and buoying the city's long-term economic health. Currently, about 1.5 million people live in poverty in the five boroughs.
A fellow at the Manhattan Institute, Heather MacDonald, said the cash incentives — which have never been used in this country — set a dangerous precedent and discourage people from taking responsibility for their own actions.
"Paying people to act in their own self-interest is a dangerous solution to dealing with poverty," she said. "It sets up an expectation that you can't be asked or expected to do something in your self interest without being paid for it."
Ms. MacDonald said the idea of earmarking the private money is irrelevant.
As a billionaire and a Republican, some would expect Mr. Bloomberg to be among the last to map out a comprehensive approach to a solving poverty: a problem viewed as eternal in New York and other urban areas.
Messrs. Parsons and Canada, two of the most influential black leaders in the city, praised him for tackling the challenge. Their 47-page report focused on the working poor, young adults, and children under 5. The proposals include expanding universal pre-kindergarten, targeting low-income families for subsidized housing, creating job-training programs, and increasing opportunities for high school equivalency exams.
Many of the recommendations are rather broad, but Mr. Bloomberg said he is giving city agencies 60 days to draft an implementation plan with budget proposals, timelines, and strategies for tracking progress.
The strategy of bringing together business executives, nonprofit leaders, and academics is Mr. Bloomberg's signature style. He acknowledged that the plan was ambitious, but said that "until we marshal the best efforts of our public and private sectors" to help more poor New Yorkers, "this will not be the city it can be or that we want it to be."
Few details were offered on the "conditional cash transfer" program. Deputy Mayor Linda Gibbs, who is overseeing the commission, said the city would determine what actions to reward with how much money in the coming months. She and Mr. Bloomberg stressed that the program has been successful in many other countries.
Mr. Parsons, a Republican who served as chairman of Mayor Giuliani's 1993 campaign for City Hall, has denied that he has plans to run for mayor. Yesterday, he said the mantra at the commission was that "the perfect is the enemy of the good."
"We wait around for perfect circumstances, perfect confluence of events to tackle the problem, much that is good will go undone," Mr. Parsons said.
Mr. Canada said all eyes would be on New York City as it moves to implement the plan. He predicted that others would follow this city's lead.
The City Council is planning a hearing on the proposals Thursday. Officials in Speaker Christine Quinn's office reacted positively to the proposals, but said they would have to review them more thoroughly. The council has been advocating for more universal pre-kindergarten and day care tax refunds.