Family Rewards program will give Memphians a pathway to self-sufficiency and economic empowerment
In 2005, I visited Mayor Michael Bloomberg in New York City to examine an anti-poverty program he had just launched called “Opportunity NYC: Family Rewards” This program involved “conditional cash transfer,” a system of providing small, cash rewards to low-income people when they met certain benchmarks of responsible, productive behavior. I have long believed that poverty is Memphis’ defining crisis, and that this program could be part of an aggressive strategy to combat poverty here.
Last year, the Center for Economic Opportunity (CEO) in Mayor Bloomberg’s office applied to the Social Innovation Fund (SIF) for money to expand the program into several other cities; at my request, Memphis was included in that application as one of the target cities (alongside KC, San Antonio, northeast Ohio, Savannah, and Newark.) Today we received an announcement that this application was granted. We now have got the opportunity to bring an ambitious, innovative, proven-successful anti-poverty program (now known as “Family Rewards”) to Memphis!
This announcement by the Center for Economic Opportunity and the Social Innovation Fund is nothing less than an announcement of hope for the city of Memphis. Right now, one out of every four Memphians dwells in poverty, including one-third of our children and one-third of our African-American population. In a city where ethnic minorities comprise almost 70% of our population, they control 1.5% of the city’s total business receipts and endure continuing, crushing unemployment. Too many people see no path forward and no way up or out. The ripple effect on crime, education, and housing values are evident everywhere.
Until we have meaningfully addressed the lack of economic empowerment for people in this city, no other progress is possible. Family Rewards and the other programs contained in CEO’s proposal to SIF are goal-oriented, data-driven initiatives focused on developing our people and investing in their futures. I cannot thank Mayor Bloomberg’s office and CEO enough for including Memphis on this application.
I look forward to working with our local foundations and private sector partners on raising the sufficient local funds to leverage the tens of millions of dollars that are now available to begin this important work.