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Wraps come off ‘Family Rewards’ anti-poverty program

Recruitment has begun for the city’s “Family Rewards” conditional cash transfer program, which will provide cash incentives to encourage families to achieve milestones that lead to better health and education.  Recruitment has begun for the city’s “Family Rewards” conditional cash transfer program, which will provide cash incentives to encourage families to achieve milestones that lead to better health, education, and employment outcomes for three years.

Participating families will be eligible to receive as much as $2,000-$3,000 for completing a range of activities, including high school attendance and academic performance, families’ medical check-ups, and passing the GED exam.

Mayor AC Wharton Jr. announced the initiation of recruitment at the Peabody Hotel on Wednesday in association with Robert Lipscomb of the City of Memphis’ Division of Housing & Community Development, Ruby Bright of the Women’s Foundation for a Greater Memphis, Meredith Hennessy of Seedco, and Allegra Blackburn-Dwyer of the NYC Center for Economic Opportunity. The announcement was made during a meeting of the Ascend Family Economic Security program, a new program of the Aspen Institute.

“Tomorrow (Sept. 22), the U.S. Census Bureau will release its localized poverty data for Memphis, which makes today’s announcement particularly relevant,” said Wharton.  “Too many Memphians see no path forward and no way up and out of crippling, multi-generational poverty. The ripple effect on crime, education, and housing values are evident everywhere.”

Family Rewards is a goal-oriented, data-driven initiative focused on developing people and investing in their futures, said Wharton.

“Until we have addressed the lack of economic empowerment felt by so many people in our city, it will be impossible for Memphis to become a true city of choice.”

Family Rewards is one of five programs being replicated in cities across the country by New York City Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg’s Social Innovation Fund, a new public-private partnership designed to expand effective anti-poverty programs.

According to Bloomberg,  “Great initiatives like Family Rewards in Memphis can benefit from what we’ve learned in New York, and cities across the country can improve their programs based on Memphis’ experience.”

Other cities participating in the initiative include: New York City; Cleveland, Ohio; Kansas City, Mo.; Newark, N.J.; San Antonio, Texas; Tulsa, Okla.; and Youngstown, Ohio.

Seedco and its partner organizations, Urban Strategies Memphis HOPE and Porter-Leath, are working with the Memphis City Schools (MCS), the Tennessee Department of Human Services, and Housing & Community Development to identify eligible participants – families who live in Memphis, receive cash assistance or food stamps, and have a student in the ninth or tenth grade. Participating families will be assigned an advisor who will help them manage their incentives as well as have access to other services such as financial literacy counseling and no-fee bank accounts.

Eligible families will be pre-selected using data provided by MCS and will be contacted by the local partners and invited to enroll in the program. Because Family Rewards is a research demonstration project, researchers will collect data on families that receive the intervention and families that do not. That means 600 enrolled families will be eligible for incentives and an additional 600 families will be assigned to a control group.  MDRC, a non-profit social research and policy organization, is consulting on the program design and will lead the evaluation of the program.  

Family Rewards-Memphis is an $11.53 million initiative. The City is required to raise half of those funds from non-federal sources to supplement the investment by Social Innovation Fund, Bloomberg Philanthropies, Open Society Foundations, and the W.K. Kellogg Foundation.  The City of Memphis has already pledged $1.9 million toward the effort, and has engaged the Women’s Foundation of Greater Memphis to lead the effort to raise the remaining balance over three years.

(For more information, contact Seedco Senior Program Associate Danielle Schonbaum at 901-405-7880 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .)

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