New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg defends his new program — a new inititative launched today — to pay low-income families to take better care of their children and their health.
The social experiment, known as Opportunity NYC, modeled on plans designed to break the cycle of poverty in developing countries, was spearheaded by the billionaire mayor, who is using $50 million in private funding.
The program offers 5,000 low-income families payments if they get more involved in their kids' education and health care.
"Some people look at this and say, 'Whoa, you're paying people to do what they should be doing, anyway," ABC's Dan Harris told Bloomberg.
"Absolutely," he responded. "Now, what's the question? Your statement of fact is correct, but that doesn't make it wrong. What is clear is these people aren't doing what we'd like them to do. And so, if the only way you can get them to do it is by paying them, is that better or worse than not having them do it at all?"
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As the program began today, New York resident Gertheal Davis opened a bank account and received $50. If she reviews her sons' test results, she'll get $25 and if she takes her sons to the doctor, she'll be given $200 per child. Click here to see the schedule of payments:
Davis said she's engaged in her childrens' education and health, anyway, but she knows some parents are not.
"Sometimes, people do need some type of encouragement. And so maybe this will [be] something that will wake 'em up," Davis said.
But, it may, in fact, make things worse, say social policy experts. They say these cash incentives will warp the values and destroy the moral sense of the recipients.
"It's wrong to teach a parent that the reason that he or she follows his child's education is because it will provide an immediate payoff of 25 or 50 bucks. He should do that because it's in his child's interest," said Heather MacDonald at the Manhattan Institute, a conservative think tank.
In response, Bloomberg said the government pays people and businesses to do things all the time, as with tax breaks to encourage home ownership or a college education.
"The incentives of using capitalism have worked at other levels, and nobody complains about that. Why not use those incentives to do the same thing here?" Bloomberg asked.
But not even the mayor guarantees success. "If you go in and only do the things that you're sure will work, you will never do anything," said Bloomberg.
And Bloomberg said it's shame on us as a society if we don't try, given that poverty persists in the United States, the wealthiest nation on the planet.