Poor Families to Get Cash for Healthy Choices Under NYC Mayor Bloomberg's Plan

Good behavior at school, regular trips to the doctor and job training all have long-term rewards — but soon city officials will be offering some residents a more immediate payoff for such accomplishments: cash.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced Thursday the details of a plan to pay some poor families up to $5,000 a year for making healthy choices. All but $8 million of the $50 million in private funds proposed for the program, which is set to start in September, has been raised, city officials said.

Similar efforts have seen successful in countries including Brazil and Mexico, where there has been widespread praise for World Bank-supported programs that give financial rewards to parents for sending their children to school and regular doctors' visits.

In New York, few school absences and regular doctor and dentist visits will earn the rewards, which are known as conditional cash transfers. Also on the list: behaving properly at school, scoring well on standardized tests, maintaining adequate health coverage and combining work with job training.

Each accomplishment could earn a family from $50 to $300. By the end of a year, families each could accumulate $3,000 to $5,000, city officials said.

"We believe that financial incentives will encourage actions that are good for the city and its families: higher attendance in schools, more parental involvement in education and better career skills," Bloomberg said during his announcement Thursday at a family services center in the Brownsville section of Brooklyn.

The two-year pilot run of the program will serve 2,500 families whose incomes are less than 130 percent of the federal poverty line. The city has 1.5 million people living below that federal marker, which is about $20,000 a year for a family of four.

Participating families will have at least one child entering grade 4, 7 or 9 in September of this year, and they will all live in underprivileged neighborhoods in Manhattan, the Bronx or Brooklyn.

The city plans to compare the families to another group of the same size that will not receive the awards.