SF poverty program shows positive results

May 21, 2009 6:35:58 PM PDT
A new way of fighting poverty is showing results tonight. And even with daunting budget problems in San Francisco, the mayor is promising to find the money to expand the program.

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There's plenty of bad news about the nation's economy. These families symbolize something positive. They're part of a program called the Family Independence Initiative.

It is an innovative approach that empowers people to change their lives by encouraging them to set goals, documenting their progress and an unusual idea -- paying them for tangible improvements.

"It's as simple as this: if you get an immunization, you get money, if you graduate from school, you get cash," said San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom.

The program started in Oakland. Mayor Gavin Newsom copied it two years ago with a $500,000 grant.

That's when 16 families including Lucy and Juan Michel signed on. They receive grants totaling no more than $2,000 a year. Lucy has been motivated to start her own floral designs.

"They are helping me how to expand my business because I really want to be successful," said program participant Lucy Michel.

That's exactly the sort of outcome the program's creator envisioned.

"What would happen if we gave some of the money we normally spend on case managers and others to help families and we actually gave it to the families to find out what they would do with the money," said Maurice Lim Miller from Family Independence Initiative.

The pilot program's 16 families are making significant progress according to results released on Thursday by the Mayor's Office.

Household income increased nearly 21 percent, 48 percent of the kid's grades improved, two families became new homeowners, 17 acquired health insurance and six families started or expanded businesses like the Michels.

Those first families have now recruited others and as of this month 93 new families are on board.

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