San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Dr.’s Visit Now Required To Get Cash Benefits

The state already pays teenagers to stay in school.Now it will pay them to see the doctor.
The Housing Ministry this week attached another string to its cash transfer program Avancemos, which will give up to $100 a month to 140,000 poor high school students in 2008.
In addition to proving they are enrolled in school and passed the previous grade, beneficiaries must show that they got a medical checkup within the last year.
The new requirement is intended to keep  kids in school by preventing pregnancies, helping pregnant teens, checking abuse by family members, and promoting emotional and physical health.
Students can get free medical treatment through the Caja, which manages Costa Rica’s socialized health-care system.
An initiative by President Oscar Arias’  administration,Avancemos (Spanish for “let’s go forward”) has grown quickly. Transfers went to nearly 93,000 students in 2007, up from 8,000 the previous year. The program aims to pay 140,000 students in 2008,when its budget will double to $80 billion.
The goal is to discourage teenagers from dropping out and getting jobs. That becomes harder to achieve as students age, said Housing Minister Fernando Zumbado. Some 29% of beneficiaries are in seventh grade, while only 10.5% are in 11th grade, even though the ministry pays $30 a month to seventh graders and $95 a month to 11th-graders.
The Union of Private University Rectors (UNIRE), which includes most of the country’s private colleges, gave scholarships this week to the 1,000 Avancemos graduates with the highest scores on a national exam.
The Housing Ministry will add another incentive to graduate beginning this year. Each ninth-grader in the program will get a bank account with $500. Another $500 will be added when she completes each of 10th and 11th grade – the last year of high school. Only at graduation can she access the entire $1,500, spending it on whatever she pleases.
Avancemos has come under criticism because ministry authorities do not check where families spend the money – whether on food and school supplies or cell phones and alcohol. The ministry this year will survey a sample of beneficiaries to determine how they use the money and what they think of the program. Ministry advisers concede that families may not tell the truth.
But Zumbado said, “We can’t hire police officers to monitor where the money is going.”

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