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PR- 412-09
September 22, 2009


"Thank you, Ambassador Quinoñez.  Good morning to you and to our many distinguished guests: Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton; OAS Secretary-General José Miguel Insulza; President of Chile, Her Excellency Dr. Michelle Bachelet, and Inter-American Bank President Ambassador Luis Alberto Moreno.

"I'd also like to acknowledge from my own Administration: Deputy Mayor for Health and Human Services Linda Gibbs, and Marjorie Tiven, our commissioner for the New York City Commission for the United Nations, Consular Corps and Protocol, who is our liaison to foreign governments and international organizations.

"We are honored that all of you have come to New York City to have this important dialogue. Gatherings like this are important because we all have much to learn from each other as we take on the challenges facing all cities in the 21st century.

"We may speak different languages, eat different foods, and I'm betting we all root for different soccer teams.  But we do share many of the same goals:  to make our communities centers of innovation - beacons of opportunity - and places where hardworking people can afford to raise their families and live out their dreams.

"Here in New York City over the last eight years, we've reduced crime to new lows and have made record improvements in our public schools. But we don't claim to have all the answers, and we're always looking at what other great cities are doing.

"For example, there's our Summer Streets program - which opens city streets to pedestrians and bikers on certain days in the summer.   It was based on an idea that's proved to be wildly popular in Bogotá. And there's also PlaNYC, our long-term environmental agenda, which adapts some of the best green practices from cities around the world and tries to take them to the next level.

"But the program I'm really here to talk to you about today is called Opportunity NYC. It's an anti-poverty initiative inspired by a conditional cash transfer program I saw firsthand in Mexico in 2007 - and I think it's very much in the spirit of the Inter-American Social Protection Network that we're launching today. 

"Many of you have already met with members of our Administration's groundbreaking agency in charge of fighting poverty - our Center for Economic Opportunity, and have had a chance to see Opportunity NYC in action.  For those of you who have not, let me give you a little background: As you well know, conditional cash transfers are financial grants designed to encourage people to take positive actions that will improve their futures. For example, making regular doctor's appointments to keep your child healthy; helping your children apply themselves in the classroom; or opting for the training that will lead to a better-paying job.

"Financial incentives have already proved to be a powerful tool in so many areas. The federal government puts them in our tax code, through policies such as the mortgage interest tax deduction for homeowners.  And the private sector uses them too, in the form of compensation packages. So why shouldn't local governments also harness the power of incentives?

"In New York City we've already begun to use incentives in new, innovative ways. For example, we've incentivized leadership in our public schools by establishing performance bonuses for principals whose students make the greatest gains. And now we are the first city in the United States to test the effectiveness of conditional cash transfers.

"When we studied the program that met with so much success in rural Mexico, we asked ourselves:  How could we adapt it to work in an urban setting like New York City? To find out, we raised private funding and began a 2-year pilot program that involved more than 2,400 families. Then, this year, we raised even more private funding, which allows us to extend the pilot program for a third year. Doing so will enable us to have a more robust picture of the long-term viability of Conditional Cash Transfers for cities in the United States. And our rigorous five year evaluation will allow us to see whether the initial gains that the cash transfers offer a family can be sustained over time.

"Opportunity NYC is just one of 40 new poverty-fighting strategies that our Administration has launched over the past three years.  But it's one of our boldest and many people are anxious to see how we do. Although we won't have a comprehensive report evaluating the program until the end of the year, I can share with you some positive trends we've seen in the preliminary data.

"They suggest that the high school students whose families are receiving Opportunity NYC grants are improving their school attendance, and taking and passing rigorous state exams in greater numbers. While we recognize that more data needs to come in - we're very encouraged by some of what we've already seen.

"Not every new program that we try is going to be successful, but if we are serious about breaking the cycle of poverty and reducing the disparity between rich and poor that, unfortunately, is wider in our hemisphere than in any other place on Earth, we must be unafraid to test new approaches rigorously, fully prepared to discard those that don't do the job, and willing to share with our neighbors the ones that do.

"I'd like to thank you all again for coming to New York City to have this vital discourse. There is already so much in our nations' histories and cultures that link us all together. It's easy to see it in a city like New York - which is home to people from every single one of the countries represented here today. Let this challenge of reducing poverty be one more link that binds us to one another and helps us work together toward a common future.

"Have a wonderful and productive conference, and please enjoy the rest of your stay in New York City."


Stu Loeser /Dawn Walker   (212) 788-2958

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