Memphis program paid students for good grades and their parents to get jobs

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MEMPHIS, Tenn. -- One in every three families in Memphis lives in poverty.

For 3 years Memphis worked to turn that around by paying children to go to school and their parents to work.

WREG puts the program under the microscope to see if the promise of the mighty dollar inspires long-term or just short term change.

Researchers for the next several years will monitor De Givens and her children.

They'll see if she keeps a full time job.

Check her children`s progress in school and monitor if the family keeps up routine doctor visits.

"Anyone who received the SNAP benefit, or the TANF benefit or the Tenn Care, I think even Cell-Link your name was automatically in that data base," said De Givens a program participant.

Givens participated in the conditional cash transfer program from July 2011 to December 2014.

The program targeted hundreds of low income families in two cities.

300 in the Bronx, New York.

300 in Memphis.

Children got $40 a month for good attendance in school, $50 for getting at least 19 on the ACT.

$200 for passing end of course exams and $10 for each C on their report card.

$20 for B's and $30 for each A.

"Parents give their own children rewards a lot. When you were in school, I know when I was in school if I made an A I may get $10.Parents with children in poverty aren't always able to do that," said Gwen Price, Porter Leath.

Price was one of the administers of the Memphis Family Rewards Program in Memphis.

Parents also earned cash in the program.

A routine check up to the dentist and doctor earned parents 100 bucks for each family member.

They got $150 a month for holding down a full time job and $400 for earning a GED.

"Some may have had part time jobs so this really encouraged them to either push to get more hours or get another job, go full-time, said Price.

The cash rewards gave families like Givens` breathing room in the family bank account.

"There were times we could do more as a family. We may be able to go to a movie or they may be able to get a few extra things," said Givens.

The payments to participants ended in December and the program moved to the next phase.

Studying if paying the Memphis families changed habits enough to help lift them out of poverty and if paying people to do things they should do anyway is worth it.

The Beacon Center of Tennessee, an organization that works to shape public policy in the state and reduce costs, is optimistic but guarded about giving cash to change conditions.

'The concepts of incentives applying that to a welfare program is not a bad idea conceptually we just need to see whether or not it has the desired affect," said Lindsay Boyd, Beacon Center of TN.

The preliminary study is back.

Participants in the Bronx earned more cash when compared to their Memphis counterparts.

"I think I made about $9,000 over the course of the program. 3 and a half years," said Givens.

Givens' got a full time job soon after starting the program.

She's also no longer on food stamps.

"Sometimes it`s just the mindset and money motivates people," said Givens.

Givens says the cash payments made her think about being more timely, scheduling check-ups,even paying bills.

She says her changes are permanent but so far initial results show only modest increases in employment for most of her fellow participants.

The money did not effect outcomes for elementary or middle school students but it helped increase graduation rates for high schoolers.

Families are also making more regular dentist visits, since the program ended.

The final analysis will be available two to three years from now.