from The New York Times
By DIANE CARDWELL
In an effort to reduce the city’s high poverty rate, the Bloomberg administration plans to offer tax credits to impoverished families to offset child care costs and cash rewards to encourage poor people to stay in school and receive preventive medical care.
The tax credits, which would be worth up to $1,000 per child and would need approval from the City Council and the State Legislature, and cash payments would be unique among cities in the United States, Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg said yesterday in announcing the programs.
In a novel effort, the city plans to raise at least $24 million from the private sector to underwrite those rewards, said Linda I. Gibbs, deputy mayor for health and human services.
The mayor announced the plans as part of his response to the recommendations of his Commission on Economic Opportunity, which he convened this year to examine ways to help the roughly 1.5 million New Yorkers who live below the federal poverty level. For a parent with two children, that threshold was $15,735 last year.
The commission’s members were drawn from the upper echelons of the city’s business, nonprofit, academic and social services sectors — with Richard D. Parsons, the chairman of Time Warner, and Geoffrey Canada, who runs one of the most acclaimed antipoverty programs in the country, at its helm. In putting together the recommendations, its leaders traveled to the city’s poorest areas and even overseas to determine what strategies might be most successful.
In keeping with the administration’s emphasis on practical, measurable solutions to civic problems, the commission focused on the working poor, children younger than 6 and young adults, and it recommended creating a system to track progress. In all, those three groups amount to about 700,000 New Yorkers, officials said, slightly less than half of the number of city residents who live in poverty.
Working under the notion that the best antipoverty strategy is a job, the commission also recommended expanding programs aimed at preparing students for college and giving high school students and adults work experience and job training. It also suggested better coordination among agencies to help people get benefits and services, thereby enabling them to seek and hold on to jobs.
As if anticipating criticism that after an enormous investigation and analysis process that engaged hundreds of experts and poor New Yorkers, the commission’s final report was neither bold nor far-reaching enough, Mr. Bloomberg defended the narrowed focus.
“What we’re trying to do is to identify groups here that we believe we know how to help, focus our resources, demand accountability, try things,” Mr. Bloomberg said. “How many people we can help, how much we can improve society, we don’t know. All we know is if we don’t start we will never make any progress.”
Saying that he endorsed the commission’s recommendations enthusiastically, Mr. Bloomberg charged his agencies with developing plans within 60 days.
Administration officials offered few specifics about their new programs, which they said they were still designing.
The payments could range anywhere from $50 to $1,500, officials said, and could be used to reward a range of actions, from scoring well on standardized tests to enrollment in service learning programs, which would funnel high school students into community service work. Officials are also weighing using the approach to spur enrollment in the Nurse-Family Partnership, a home visitation program that focuses on low-income first-time parents.
City officials said that they did not know of another such cash incentive program in the United States, but that the approach has had success in Mexico and has been used in several other countries. Still, it is in keeping with Mr. Bloomberg’s approach of engaging the private sector to encourage certain behavior with financial rewards, as he did with a program that offered shopping and dining discounts to protesters who remained peaceful during the Republican National Convention.
The child care tax credit, which would be available to families earning $30,000 or less who use accredited child care services for children younger than 3, would cost about $42 million, city officials said. The plan is most likely to get a sympathetic hearing in the City Council, which has called for such a credit in the past.
Mr. Bloomberg said that the city would create and expand college preparation programs like the collaboration with the City University of New York that allows high school students to take college courses. He also said that the city would create a program at its public hospitals to recruit home health care aides and subsidize their training to become nurses.
Reaction to the report was tempered, with advocates and officials praising the mayor’s focus on the issue but raising concerns about the lack of specific proposals.
Joel Berg, executive director of the New York City Coalition Against Hunger, said he was disappointed that the report did not offer “particular strategies to address city policies that continue to increase hunger.”
Members of Community Voices Heard, an antipoverty group that advised the commission, worried that the focus on specific populations would ignore the problems of others, like the unemployed.
“When we actually see the action plans from the agencies,” said Sandra Killett, co-chairwoman of the board of directors, “then we will better be able to assess what the real benefits to people in poverty will be.”
And City Councilman Bill de Blasio, chairman of the General Welfare Committee, said that Mr. Bloomberg was not vigorous enough in pressuring the private sector to raise wages or the state and federal governments to subsidize programs.
“I don’t feel that he’s holding the federal government and state government and private sector to the same standard that he’s holding himself,” Mr. de Blasio said.
The City Council has scheduled a hearing on the report for Thursday.
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