What do we know about guaranteed minimum income (GMI) programs in Europe? We didn’t have an updated stock-take of practices for some time, so a rich new paper on European GMIs by Coady et al fills an important gap. Some nuggets: average pre-Covid spending on means-tested income support is about 1% of GDP compared to 2.3% on non-means-tested benefits. Plenty of design diversity emerges, with schemes including (i) simple programs with restricted eligibility and coverage (e.g., Austria and Greece); (ii) general schemes with additional categorical benefits covering most people in need (e.g., Germany and UK); (iii) complex network of schemes, often categorical and covering most poor people (e.g., France and Malta); and (iv) limited, partial and poorly performing schemes (i.e., Bulgaria). There are also tradeoffs, with significant variation recorded on Participation Tax Rates (median values ranging from about 30% to over 60%) and Marginal Effective Tax Rates (about 30%-50%). How are countries managing those incentives? By reducing generosity (e.g., Estonia), tapering benefits (e.g., Malta), and providing in-work support (e.g., Ireland).
From cash to in-kind, with a massively interesting study: in India, 46% of girls aged 6-10 participate in midday school meals (MDM). A new study by Chakrabarti et al finds intergenerational effects: children with mothers receiving MDM in the past have lower stunting (by 0.4 SD) than those whose moms didn’t receive meals while at school.
Speaking of nutrition, what can the provision of cash transfers couple with information achieve? In Yemen, where only 20% of funds are provided in cash, Kurdi shows that a “cash plus” program improved child dietary diversity and, among the poorest, stunting levels (by 0.3 z-scores). In Nigeria, Carneiro et al estimate that an unconditional cash transfers for women ($22/months, or 1/4 of food spending, for 2 years), with information on pregnancy and feeding, reduced stunting by 8%, while making illness decline by 12% and mothers’ earnings grow by 21% (eligibility only included residency and pregnancy status).
Moving to Asia where loads of social protection delivery lessons are harvested. Gelb et al discuss results from a survey of India’s PMGKY food and cash transfers program for women, seniors and farmers, including with a focus on its “digital first” performance (see also a blog). A fantastic case study on cash transfers in the Philippines is out: the Social Amelioration Program (SAP) provided two rounds of payment of about $100-160 to 18 million families (75% of the population). The great note by Cho et al shows how delivery lessons from the first phase were incorporated in the second wave of SAP (including online applications, digital payments, and financial inclusion, among others). Bonus on The Philippines: Dervisevic et al estimate the effects of Pantawid on those enrolled in the program for up to 1.5 years when they were between ages 12.5- 14 and are currently in their early 20s: participation in the program is associated with delay in marriage and the first birth of approximately one year and six months, respectively.
Since I mentioned pregnancy, let’s tackle one of the most longstanding myths on cash transfers: do they increase fertility? No, they don’t. A succinct brief by Peterman reviews the evidence for Asia and discusses design choices, especially on conditionalities, messaging and labelling, transfer value and duration, and health supply side investments. And BTW, a recent evaluation of Colombia’s Familias en Acción by Attanasio et al showed it reduced teenage pregnancy of 2.3 percentage points (in addition to reducing arrests by 2.7pp and school dropout by 5.8pp, with college enrollment up by 1.7pp for men). Bonus: Bourgault and O’Donnell have a crisp commentary on ensuring women’s access to cash transfers in the pandemic.
Earlier I spoke of national-level delivery of programs, let’s now zoom into local delivery issues in the US: a CBPP report by Hall and Neuberger shows that states’ implementation of the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) displayed huge participation variance (ranging from a 20% increase to a 21% decrease). Why? Because many states couldn’t upload WIC benefits remotely. A footnote on the US: after a quarter century, the city of San Diego terminated ‘Project 100%’. This included unannounced, invasive home visits by public officials in search for evidence of fraud by welfare applicants. Investigators had broad powers over deciding eligibility.
Continuing on delivery, here is a novel way of organizing delivery in emergency contexts: based on quantitative models, a new article by Kian et al identifies optimal cash transfer distribution points in remote locations. Their method was applied to Syrian refugees in Turkey and highlights trade-offs between reach and cost.
Other news from the humanitarian front? Bharania and Silverman reflect on delivering connectivity as aid in humanitarian assistance, while the Better Than Cash Alliance underscored how the pandemic supercharged the uptake of digital payments worldwide.
Let’s keep focusing on innovative methodologies: a paper by Aiken et al compares the targeting of cash transfers using machine learning and mobile phone data in Togo relative to geographic, occupation-based (informal workers and poorest jobs) and proxy methods. The ML/MP method seems to do well in most cases (see tables 5-7, p.54-56). And can satellite imagery and deep learning methods help evaluations of cash transfers in Kenya? Findings from Huang et al show “… consistent results with the traditional field-survey based approach”.
Two resources on connecting social protection and health operationally. Kumar et al discuss a cash transfer program providing $1,000 to 720 Covid affected, low-income patients in New York. The program was run by an NGO with patient referrals provided via hospital staff (the main eligibility screening occurred via health insurance). In Ethiopia, Mussa et al show that 64% of PSNP recipients in the Amhara region are enrolled in health insurance (CBHI). But participation rate is lower for labor-constrained (50%) versus public works (70%) participants, with family size and premium cost being among the main barriers. Bonus on Ethiopia: a paper by Borga and D’Ambrosio documents that social protection in the country, as well as in India and Peru, reduced multidimensional poverty over 2006-16, including affecting assets, livestock and (some) living standards.
Let’s stay in Africa: in Rwanda, unconditional cash transfers (VUP program’s Direct Support component) account for 1/3 of recipients’ consumption. Evidence from Habimana et al shows that the program reduces poverty and yields small consumption increases. Noteworthy is also that households respond to VUP by working less on their own farms. And in Tanzania, Prencipe et al estimated that conditional cash transfers reduced depression among males, but increased it for females (especially with children). How so? It’s hypothesized, but not quantified, that program conditions bolstered women’s distress.
Social protection Covid programs are often not just plain responses, but intelligent adaptations: the LONDO public works program in the Central African Republic was converted from maintaining small scale roads to producing 2.4 million Covid masks (aiming at 10 million). The shift led to supporting the livelihoods of 18,000 tailors and injecting $17 million into the local economy.
But let’s not forget other pandemics… in Brazil, Sampaio Morais et al estimate that Bolsa cash transfers covering over 70% of the poorest population reduce the incidence of HIV/AIDS by 10.3% (women -15% and children -38.7%), hospitalization rates by 26.4%, and mortality by 9.7%
And that’s not all on Brazil: rainfall shocks increase the probability of child labor by 6.4 percentage points (pp); but with Bolsa, Fitz and League calculate that the increase in child labor is only 2.3 pp (especially among older rural boys).
Mix of news: three gifts from Ravallion, who has not only released a new working paper, Macroeconomic Misery by Levels of Income in America, but also reconciled (with Chen) conflicting numbers on China’s poverty, leading to new series back to 1981… as well as updated some of his lecture notes; Schjødt has a handy review of the effects of social protection programs on social cohesion; and Drucza and Tran presents findings from qualitative perceptions on the Maldives’ social protection system. And BTW, Basu has released a new memoir, “Policymaker’s Journal”, which charts the course of his career over seven years.
Podcasts! ODI’s Bastagli interviewed Rutkowski and McCord on ODA financing for social protection in the pandemic; Lowe and Hebbar examine whether operational challenges created by the pandemic are being overcome; and Roelen and I discuss social assistance and cash transfers in urban contexts.
Any events? JPAL hosted a webinar with Kelley, Quattrochi, Roberts, Sloane, and Ventevogel on forcibly displaced people receiving vouchers on essential household items in DRC; and of course the Jobs and Development Conference is coming up!
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 socialprotection.org each week, offering knowledge on social protection to helps you stay on top of it — succinctly, regularly and frequently. Previous editions can be found here.