There is more and more attention devoted to food insecurity, so let’s begin with a paper on the matter: Dasgupta and Robinson estimate the impact of Covid-19 on 4 measures of food insecurity using multiple waves of high frequency household surveys in 11 countries. They show that food insecurity was particularly severe among women headed households (highest in Malawi), the less educated (especially Djibouti), and poorer households (Mali in primis). Examining the ability of safety nets to mitigate those impacts, they show that programs helped significantly, but didn’t offset the negative food insecurity effects. Among program modalities, “… cash assistance has reduced the chances of households suffering from food insecurity over time, whereas food assistance has failed to significantly reduce the probability of food insecurity during the pandemic” (see graphs above).

An extra dose of social protection lessons from the pandemic, including from the proceedings from a recent meeting of the UN’s “Experts in Social Development” Commission: among the many interesting observations, Devereux recommended expanding coverage to informal workers, increasing benefits paid by social assistance programs, and carefully investing in delivery technology.

Since I mentioned workers… do cash transfers reinforce or alter traditional intrafamily division of labor? A new paper by Marcillo et al poses the question in the context of Colombia’s flagship Familias en Acción CCT. They found that the program component tied to health doesn’t affect adult time allocation, while the education arm is more nuanced: in households with young children, cash transfers for keeping children in school relieve the burden of care for mothers; but in families with older children (aged 11-18 yo), transfers actually increase the time women spend in other unpaid domestic activities (e.g., food preparation and house maintenance). This signals that “… women are the ones who compensate for lost labor at home when older children stay longer in school”.

More on the region: Mexico has a long tradition with school feeding programs, which began in 1929 with the Gota de Leche in Mexico City and was universal in the 1980s. Figueiredo’s handy 5-page note reviews the national School Breakfasts (Desayunos Escolares) program. A peculiar feature for participation? Parents must visit their children’s schools – on average 5 times/month – to help with cooking, storing food or distributing food.

From South to North America: let’s take a look at the social assistance “cliffs”, or the shape that benefit structure of US programs like TANF, SNAP, and several others can take in Colorado, Minnesota, and New York. Based on interviews with beneficiaries and modeling work, Anderson et al show that complex program rules can make it hard for beneficiaries to understand program eligibility, how benefits interact with new jobs income, and how benefit reduction rates (or cash reductions as families earn additional income) can compound when people participate in multiple programs. The study’s sums it up this way: “… the vast majority of parents want to work and set a strong, positive example for their children. They just need the government not to pull the rug out from under them as they get on their feet”.

Now, Walker raises another fascinating point: she argues that pandemic relief funds in the US have provided unprecedented opportunities to fund cash programs, but as the state of emergency wanes, how pilots and other programs are funded can affect eligibility to mainstream safety nets. In her words, pilot programs “… must consider how they implement and fund programs to ensure participants do not lose crucial benefits”.

From pilot to pilot, with universal child grant (BANGGA) for 31,000 indigenous beneficiaries being recently tested in the Papua province of Indonesia (h/t Pip O’Keefe). An evaluation of its delivery process by the Australian government et al shows that BANGGA led to substantial increase in civil registration within the program districts (about half of the population); but because of the remoteness of the targeted areas, many beneficiaries had to travel together to payment points and stay a few days there until all got paid. The evaluators found “… a strong correlation between goods purchased and the socialisation materials provided to beneficiaries at payment points” (see p.10 for an illustration). A compact set of recommendations conclude the report, including spanning institutional and delivery issues (see p.16-18).

From pilots to full-fledged reforms: the US Supplemental Security Income program provides cash assistance to the families of 1.2 million low-income children and to 5.2 million low-income adults with disabilities. A reform enacted in 1996 reduced youth eligibility to SSI at age 18. Based on such change, about 40% of children who receive SSI just before age 18 are removed from SSI as a result of a reevaluation. The effects from removal? According to a new paper by Deshpande and Mueller-Smith, the likelihood of crime doubled, incarceration went up by 60%, and the costs of enforcement and incarceration almost wiped out savings of reduced SSI benefits.

How can humanitarian cash transfers strengthen social protection systems? Two case studies provide some interesting lessons, including on Bono Único in Honduras and on Inclusión Población Infantil in the Dominican Republic both penned by Chapman et al. The latter program was a short-term horizontal and vertical expansion of the national Supérate scheme, with the case study nicely illustrating lesson across various “preparedness elements” (see p.5); the former experience in Honduras is more about the national scheme itself, with key challenges including collaboration with INGOs, data transferability, concerns about exclusion errors and duplication, and financing (plus a general preference of the GoH for in-kind transfers).

Let me flag three materials on the war in Ukraine: a short piece by Barrett and Smith argues that addressing Ukraine’s humanitarian needs requires overdue reforms to US international food assistance policy. A blog by Ratha and Kim estimates that remittance flows to Ukraine from migrants abroad are expected to jump by 8% or more in 2022. And thought-provoking blog by Mukherjee asks whether frozen Russian assets could fund a universal basic income in Ukraine. The blog describes opportunities and challenges for such an idea (among them in terms of inflation), and concludes that “… [n]one of these challenges are insurmountable, but together they form a substantial set of logistical and regulatory issues that would need to be overcome”.

Before you go, here is the biggest direct private sector investment I have seen on cash transfers: in the coming 8 years, Nestlé plans to invest $1.4 billion on an initiative featuring cash assistance in relation to cocoa production.


Ugo Gentilini is from the World Bank’s Social Protection & Jobs global practice. The Social Protection Links newsletter, issued every Friday, distills and discusses a selection of curated resources on the topic, from academic articles to podcasts. The blog is republished on each week, offering knowledge on social protection to help you stay on top of it — succinctly, regularly and frequently. Previous editions can be found here. 

To sign up to the newsletter or share materials, you can contact Ugo by email ([email protected]), Twitter (@ugentilini) or LinkedIn.

Social Protection Programmes: 
  • Social assistance
    • Social transfers
      • Cash transfers
        • Conditional cash transfers
      • In kind transfers
        • School feeding programmes
Social Protection Building Blocks: 
  • Policy
    • Coverage
  • Programme design
  • Programme implementation
    • Benefits payment / delivery
    • Informations Systems (MIS, Social Registry, Integrated Registry)
Social Protection Approaches: 
  • Social protection systems
  • Universal Social Protection
Cross-Cutting Areas: 
  • Disability
  • Disaster risk management / reduction
  • Food and nutritional security
  • Human rights
  • Labour market / employment
  • Chad
  • Djibouti
  • Ethiopia
  • Kenya
  • Malawi
  • Mali
  • Nigeria
  • South Africa
  • Uganda
  • Colombia
  • Honduras
  • Mexico
  • United States
  • Armenia
  • Cambodia
  • Indonesia
  • Ukraine
The views presented here are the author's and not's