Cindy Rodriguez is the Urban Policy reporter for New York Public Radio.
Towards the end of 2006, the Bloomberg administration started the Center for Economic Opportunity (CEO) as a way to create and evaluate programs aimed at reducing poverty.
During a city council hearing Monday, council members asked to what extent CEO’s programs had reduced the number of impoverished families living in New York City. Mark Levitan, CEO’s Director of Poverty Research said CEO programs were too small in scope to have significant impact in the way programs liked food stamps or tax credits for the poor would have. “You’re asking us for something that we really can’t deliver on,” Levitan said.
Instead, he said the Center concentrated more on combining the best practices used by city agencies, non-profits, academics and experts.
“If we see something that’s promising then let’s try to build it,” Levitan said. “Let’s try to bring it to scale.”
The idea behind CEO has been to use private funds to experiment with different programs, evaluate them rigorously and then use those results to attract public dollars that would allow initiatives to grow.
CEO said among its successes is CUNY ASAP, a program that it says has doubled graduation rates at community colleges. It also touted a job placement program run by Small Business Services that works with employers from specific industries as well as a job placement program that’s run out of public housing developments.
Levitan acknowledged that without increasing the size of programs there would be minimal impact. Right now CEO’s budget is $28 million.
“We’re not coming before you as people who are like lighting up their stoagies and telling you things are great,” he said. “That’s not the picture we’re painting here. We have a tough situation. We’re doing what we can given the resources that are presented to us.”