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  September 18, 2006


Mayor Bloomberg’s Remarks As Delivered

"Well good afternoon.

"Joining us today are the members of the Commission for Economic Opportunity, whom I appointed six months ago, and who submitted their report last week.

"At the outset, I want to commend them-especially the co-chairs, Geoffrey Canada and Richard Parsons-for their extraordinary work. Your efforts, and those of your fellow commissioners, really will make a real difference in the lives of thousands of our fellow New Yorkers.

"I also want to thank Deputy Mayor Linda Gibbs for bringing this Commission together, and for helping them see their work through to this day.

"The Commission has produced a set of thoughtful, practical, and evidence-based strategies for meeting one of our city's paramount challenges:

"Helping tens of thousands of our fellow New Yorkers move out of poverty so that they can realize the great American Dream.

"Because even though today more New Yorkers are working than at any time in our city's history-and even though we have gained more than 150,000 jobs in the past three years, the fact remains that more than 1.5 million New Yorkers confront conditions that meet the national definition of poverty. This is not a static population; in this ever-changing city, it ebbs and it flows.

"Nevertheless, at any given point in time, some 19% of New Yorkers live in households with incomes below the Federal poverty line-which is a cash income of not quite $20,000 a year for a family of four.

"Until we marshal the best efforts of our public and private sectors to help more of them transform their lives, this will not be the city it can be, or that we want it to be.

"For too long, this widespread poverty has been regarded as a troubling but inevitable condition of life in our city. But time and again-in reducing crime, reforming our schools, reviving our economy, and in other areas-New Yorkers have shown that we can devise realistic solutions to even the toughest problems.

"The Commission's work shows us how we can do that in reducing poverty as well.

"A year ago, we asked the people of New York City to return us to office so that we could truly make this "A City of Opportunity" for all.

"I believed passionately in that vision then-and I hold to it just as strongly today.

"Over the centuries, New York has provided opportunity to millions-and we have been repaid many, many times over.

"Unlocking the tremendous potential of people with more dreams than dollars is the key to our whole city's future prosperity.

"This will be an ambitious undertaking, make no mistake about it. But it's one that we've already made a good beginning at addressing.

"Over the past four and a half years, our initiatives in areas ranging from education to economic development, and from housing to health care, have greatly increased opportunity, relieved hardship, and improved living conditions for many low-income New Yorkers.

"In the State of the City in January, I committed our Administration to aggressively reducing the number of New Yorkers living in poverty between now and 2009.

"The Commission's recommendations will guide us in doing that. They are a strong set of proposals-and I endorse them enthusiastically.

"Now, we'll begin to look at turning them into policy and practice as quickly as the constraints of time and of the City's finances permit. Some I hope to see implemented very quickly.

"And because this is a task that government cannot-and should not-tackle alone, we'll also encourage additional investments and collaborative efforts by our partners in the private and non-profit sectors.

"The Commission's recommendations focus on three distinct groups of New Yorkers in poverty: working poor adults; young adults between the ages of 16 and 24; and children under the age of five.

"Nearly 700,000 New Yorkers who live in poverty-native-born and immigrant, and people of every race, ethnicity, and borough-fall into one or more of these three groups.

"We can and must pursue strategies to reduce their poverty while continuing to provide for the elderly, the disabled, the homeless, and other New Yorkers in need.

"Its focus on these three categories of poor New Yorkers is a great strength of the Commission's report. Because experience and research show that these are precisely the poor New Yorkers who can and will benefit rapidly and demonstrably from well-devised, strategic policies.

"By focusing on the working poor, we will build on the gains made in the last decade in ending "welfare as we knew it."

"By concentrating on young people in poverty, we will capitalize on our reforms of the public schools, and our commitment to creating new "school-to-work" programs for at-risk youngsters.

"And by investing in children under the age of five, we will be breaking the cycle of poverty, and improving the odds for the next generation in ways that research plainly shows will create clear and direct benefits.

"Another strength of the Commission's report is that in virtually every case, its recommendations are not speculative leaps of faith; they have been shown to produce real, measurable results, either in our city, or in other settings.

"Let's begin with the plain fact that the best anti-poverty program ever devised is a job. But for an increasing number of New Yorkers, their jobs do not lift them out of poverty.

"The result is that there are some 340,000 working New Yorkers-people who regularly set the alarm clock and punch the time clock-who nevertheless live in poverty. For them, the American Dream of working your way out of poverty isn't working-not yet, anyway.

"Since the mid-1990s, New York has been a leader in replacing the dependency of welfare with the dignity of work for thousands of New Yorkers. It has been one of the great success stories of the last decade.

"Today, welfare rolls in our city are lower than they have been since 1964; the Mayor's Management Report released last week shows that this decline is continuing, with fewer than 400,000 New Yorkers now receiving public assistance.

"I agree with the Commission that for these and for other New Yorkers, we now need to make work pay. All those willing and able to work hard must be able to climb the ladder to better lives for themselves and their families.

"And that involves a dual focus: Creating stronger career ladders, while also ensuring that as men and women reach for higher rungs on those ladders, they don't lose ground by being disqualified for the health benefits and other supports their families need.

"The Commission has challenged us to make better use of the $400 million to $500 million we spend each year in workforce development.

"They've also rightly pointed out the success that the Commission on Construction Opportunity we established in 2005 has had in meeting the growing need for skilled construction workers. And I think it should be noted that Charlie Rangel was one of the impetuses behind that campaign. They've done that by working with management and labor to open up apprenticeship training programs to veterans and our public high school graduates and others.

"We believe we can do even more along these lines-which is why, in line with the Commission's recommendations, the Health and Hospitals Corporation will aim to create new programs to fill its large, unmet need for trained nurses.

"HHC would recruit home health care attendants-many already employed by the City or by City contractors-to participate in these job training programs, and subsidize the cost of their training. This would give some of the hardest-working but low-wage New Yorkers a step up the ladder in one of our city's largest and fastest growing industries: health care.

"The Commission also has shown us that we must remove roadblocks to fulltime employment, like the high costs of childcare for the working poor.

"Because the fact is that too often, after paying for childcare, taking a fulltime job represents a net financial loss.

"That simply shouldn't be the case. We've looked at the Commission's findings in this regard. And in response, we now propose to make New York the first city in the nation with a local child care tax credit - one that will be available only to low-income families with children under the age of three. I believe that this is consistent with the overall philosophy of the Commission, and of our Administration, of empowering low-income New Yorkers to rise out of poverty themselves.

"If this measure is approved by the City Council and the State Legislature, it would return up to $1,000 a year to these families in the form of increased personal income tax refunds. And it would help more New Yorkers work their way out of poverty by allowing them to seek and hold fulltime jobs because they'll know that their children are cared for.

"The Commission's second major focus was on the city's impoverished young adults.

"There are more than a quarter-million such young men and women in our city. They account for more than one-fourth of all New Yorkers between the ages of 16 and 24.

"And the proportion of young people in poverty rises to one-third among those who live on their own-who are no longer in the homes of their birth families, or adoptive or foster parents.

"In many cases, these young people are one bad decision-like dropping out of school, or involvement in serious criminal behavior-away from a lifetime of poverty.

"The Commission rightly identifies education as the key to helping them make good decisions with their lives instead of those bad ones.

"At every age level, there's a strong link between low income and lack of education. For every incremental increase in someone's education, there's a corresponding sharp drop in the chance that he or she will be poor.

"Just consider this: Nearly a third of all working-age New Yorkers without a high school diploma are poor-but only 8% of those with bachelor's degrees are poor.

"So just as we need to focus on helping the working poor work their way out of poverty, we also need to encourage these young people to learn their way out of poverty.

"To do that, we intend for example, to implement the Commission's recommendation that we establish "service learning programs" in public high schools that have high rates of poverty.

"Through unpaid after-school and weekend community service-in, for example, nursing homes, hospitals, and soup kitchens-these programs, which have already succeeded in reducing unplanned pregnancies and keeping kids in schools at locations around the nation and here in our city, are designed to expand the horizons of these young people, give them an alternative vision of themselves and their futures, and expose them to career paths they might not have considered.

"We aim to combine this approach with the bold step of implementing a strategy not previously tried in this nation, and not directly recommended by the Commission.

"Historically, the rest of the world has often looked to America for leadership in social policy-but there is no reason that we cannot also learn from the experience of others. And I think New York can take the lead in this regard.

"This policy is called "conditional cash transfers," and it is designed to address the simple fact that the stress of poverty often causes people to make decisions-to skip a doctor's appointment, or to neglect other basic tasks-that often only worsen their long-term prospects. Conditional cash transfers give them an incentive to make sound decisions instead.

"In our case, we intend to provide conditional cash transfers-using privately raised money-to families of at-risk youngsters to encourage parents and young people to engage in healthy behavior, and to stay in school, stay at work, and stay on track to rise out of poverty.

"Second, we'll also address-as quickly as feasible-the Commission's recommendation of creating more college-readiness programs in our public high schools.

"Last year, about 33,000 public high school students took college-credit courses through a 20-year-old collaboration with the City University of New York system. Called "College Now," this program has done an outstanding job of helping students prepare for college-level work and succeeding as college students.

"We will also aim to expand the "CUNY Prep" program that, since 2003, has prepared hundreds of students who had already left school to earn GEDs.

"The third group the Commission has focused on are the roughly 185,000 children under the age of five who live in poverty.

"It is heartbreaking to realize that these terribly disadvantaged children constitute one-third of all the boys and girls under the age of five in our city.

"We know two things about them-one of them grim and the other hopeful.

"The first is that one of the surest predicators of becoming a poor adult is growing up poor in an impoverished community.

"But, second, we also know that investments made in a child's early years dramatically and reliably improve his or her odds for later health, educational achievements, and earning potential.

"Returns on such investments are necessarily delayed-but they are a clear path out of the cycle of poverty.

"And we will seek ways to increase such investments, for example, considering the Commission's recommendation to expand our pilot Nurse Family Partnership program.

"NFP, as it's called, is designed for low-income first-time mothers who are often ill-prepared for the life-altering stresses of parenthood. An experienced nurse provides them and other family members the practical guidance they need during pregnancy and the very demanding first two years of an infant's life.

"In many cases, these nurses offer the first examples of capable, nurturing parenthood that young mothers have ever experienced.

"Nurse Family Partnerships, you should know, are a proven success. Last year's heartening decline in African American and Puerto Rican infant mortality-reported in the recent MMR-was attributable in part to the success of the pilot NFP program we launched in several communities.

"In other parts of the country, low-income women and their now-teenaged children who have been involved in NFP programs over many years have had dramatically reduced rates of child abuse and neglect, lower rates of dependency on public assistance, and fewer run-ins with the law.

"We believe that NFP holds out promise for similar results here, and we will look for ways to expand NFP as rapidly as feasible.

"Before opening the floor to questions, let me say a few words about where we will go from here.

"To reduce poverty we must set realistic goals, and institute the rigorous standards of accountability that have been New York City's hallmark of success in driving down crime, and which are also producing heartening progress in improving classroom education, and in other areas.

"Long experience has taught us that simply throwing dollars at poverty does not make it go away.

"We've learned that lesson. We will target our resources, closely monitor results, and discard what doesn't work. We need to make investments for the long-term-and we need to do them right.

"That's why I am directing every relevant City agency, under the direction of Deputy Mayor Gibbs, to develop an action plan within the next 60 days designed to turn the Commission's recommendations into policies and practices.

"That action plan should include proposed budgets and timetables, and must also take note of the Commission recommendation that we devise new and more accurate ways to measure the outcomes and effectiveness of what we're doing.

"I am asking Linda, and our City agencies, to move decisively to meet the challenge the Commission has given us in its report: "Reducing want, rewarding personal initiative, and reaffirming hope."

"And on that note, I'd like to turn the floor over to the chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Time Warner and the co-chair of the Commission for Economic Opportunity, my friend, and a great New Yorker, and a great American, somebody who really has made a difference in this city, Richard Parsons.