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City to Cough Up Half a Million for Community Gift Cards

The Department of Health and Mental Hygiene intends to use Target, Amazon and Walgreens gift cards to boost community engagement.

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Gift cards to Amazon and other stores are one of the lures the Health Department plans to use to get survey responses.

Jose Martinez/THE CITY

Wanted: Your opinion.

Reward: Gift cards.

The city is dropping big bucks on gift cards for big-box stores and Amazon, as part of a $500,000 push to entice New Yorkers into answering some questions.

The Department of Health and Mental Hygiene is purchasing a half-million dollars’ worth of Walgreens, Target and Amazon gift cards “to incentivize members of the community to share their opinions, experiences, and expertise with DOHMH,” according to a contract registered this week in the City Record. 

Starting in September, DOHMH will distribute cards, with an unspecified amount of money on each on, at “focus groups, surveys, meetings with communities and providers, pilot programs, and other community engagement efforts” over the course of a year. 

The notice in the City Record adds, without elaboration, “All CBs, Queens” — suggesting that distribution will be in the jurisdiction of every community board in Queens.

“Gift cards are an important way to ensure robust participation and that participants are compensated for their time and effort,” DOHMH spokesperson Patrick Gallahue said in a statement sent after this story was originally published.

The Health Department did not answer questions from THE CITY about how many gift cards have been purchased or who will receive them.

Representatives of Baychester Payment Center LLC, the check-cashing and E-ZPass sales business in The Bronx that the city is purchasing the cards from, could not be immediately reached for comment.

20 Bucks for 15 Minutes

It’s not the first time the city agency has tried to entice New Yorkers into taking a survey, with the prospect of a payout once questions are answered.

In July, DOHMH mailed out more than $1 million in cash — in the form of $5 bills — in hopes of securing responses to a 15-minute mental health survey.  Those who completed it then received an additional 20 bucks. 

The city anticipated receiving 50,000 responses to the survey after sending the five spots through the mail to 210,426 households, but fewer than 13,000 had replied as of late June, the New York Post reported.

And in April, the research and consulting firm Abt Associates conducted another survey on behalf of the Health Department, offering $25 Visa gift cards in exchange for completing a 25-minute survey.

The results, according to the mailing, are to be used to “develop programs, create healthier neighborhoods, and increase access to health care.” 

If that project serves as a template for the half-million-dollar contract, then DOHMH would be purchasing approximately 20,000 gift cards to Walgreens, Target and Amazon.

A public health employee said that while gift cards should not be necessary to get input, there is a less-engaged segment of the population that’s likely to respond to the additional incentive. 

And for those who do respond, there is no shortage of places to spend the gift card.

Target has some 40 locations in the city, while there are more than 150 Walgreens outlets across the five boroughs.

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