New York City has reportedly spent nearly $9 million on a controversial mental health survey. The initiative, led by the Health Department in collaboration with the City University of New York, dispatched questionnaires to over 210,000 households in May.
These surveys included a $5 bill as a token of gratitude for participating. The objective was to gain at least 50,000 responses, yet the response rate was a meager 6%, which corresponds to 12,759 responses by June 27.
Critics believe many of these letters were disregarded as spam because the envelope’s exterior resembled junk mail. The envelopes featured only the Health Department’s logo and a notice that respondents could earn $20.
Each envelope contained the cash, a roughly 60-question survey, and a letter from Health Commissioner Dr. Ashwin Vasan emphasizing the importance of citizens’ input in determining necessary city resources.
Residents who received the survey expressed frustration over its wastefulness.
City Councilman Robert Holden called for more prudent use of taxpayer money, especially given the city’s projection of a $4.2 billion budget deficit by 2025, according to a recent Comptroller’s report. He said, “There are better ways to gather opinions without cash incentives that could end up in the trash or stolen. With the city facing a financial cliff, we need to spend taxpayer dollars wisely, and this survey was dumb.”
Holden continued, “With all the mail theft and spam we’re dealing with, I can’t help but wonder if people just tossed the survey and the $5 — or thieves ended up with more money in their pockets.”
As stated by Monique Williams, the project manager at the CUNY Institute for Implementation Science in Population Health, market research company Ipsos was given $7.5 million to execute the survey.
Despite the criticisms, the Health Department defended its incentive strategy as an evidence-based method for robust data collection. Spokesperson Rachel Vick said the investment was justified by the city’s commitment to hearing from its residents about their health and well-being.
Vick Said, “Due to the high value the city places on hearing directly from as many people as possible, we have utilized a modest incentive for survey participation.
She added, “This incentive strategy is a long-utilized, evidence-based strategy for robust data collection.”