Let’s start with the conclusion of a hugely important study in the US: monthly unconditional cash transfers improve early childhood brain activity. A thousand low-income mothers in NYC, Minneapolis–Saint Paul, New Orleans, and Omaha are receiving monthly unconditional cash transfers for the first 52 months of the children’s lives, with the first payment made upon the baby’s birth. Mothers were randomly assigned to either a “high-cash gift group” (receiving $333/month, or a boost of 20% on mothers’ income) or in a “low-cash gift group” ($20/month). Troller-Renfree et al just reported results from these alternative doses of cash on infant brain activity at 1 year of age: children with mothers in the high-cash arm showed greater electroencephalography power (effect sizes = 0.17 to 0.26), compared with infants in the low-cash group (the above figure displays the differences across the babies’ scalp). p.s. of course the findings stirred a flurry of reactions in the media (e.g., NYT) and blogsphere… some supportive (e.g., Scott et alMatthews) and others skeptical (e.g., Gelman).

On the pandemic front, what’s the performance of social assistance in Covid responses to LAC? Busso et al have a great paper showing that they reached the poorest. But vulnerable people and those affected in the middle of the income distribution were covered little and with inadequate amounts. Overall, the response may not allow to “… enforce another wave of lockdowns if there were a resurgence of contagion” (h/t Norbert Schady).

Speaking of LAC, curious to know on how Brazil’s Auxílio Emergencial reached 68 million people? A fantastic WBG-FCDO collection of materials document it all – see Arruda et al for a great summary note; Barbosa et al on data processing and use of administrative registries; Arruda et al on digital payments and financial inclusion; and again Arruda et al decentralized implementation. Too much reading? Watch the recent event!

And Brazil is also featured in a stellar collection of materials on school meals! FAO et al produced a reach duo of edited volumes with 35 chapters documenting the economics and practice of locally-sourced foods for school feeding programs around the world – here are volume 1 and volume 2 (h/t Alejandro Grinspun).

More on in-kind transfers: what increases “at home” food consumption the most, cash transfers or in-kind vouchers? Hembre et al study California as a case of “cash out puzzle” whereby $1 of food voucher (SNAP) benefits leads to an additional $0.4 allocated for food versus just $0.15 by similar transfers in cash. Bonus on food security: Davis et al call for an explicit inclusion of livelihoods of poor rural people in empirical work on food systems transformation.

Let’s move to Africa! As part of the ODI-IFS TaxDev database, McNabb and Granger unveil findings on personal income taxes (PIT) in the region. Among the many insights, they estimated that, theoretically, in 13 countries someone earning a wage equal to the $1.9/day poverty line would be subject to a PIT with an effective tax rate of 2.5% (see figure 3, p.16). But in the median country of their sample, PIT is levied only on incomes greater than $6.20 per day. See also the full TaxDev excel and technical guide.

Three resources on MENA: a paper by Hatayama on labor market regulations in the region argues that minimum wages are low and static, while “… [o]verly restrictive regulations protect a few formal workers and do not cover the unemployed”. Karasapan reflects on a decade of Syrian refugees’ presence in Jordan. And a blog by Rivera and Koettl describes Saudi Arabia’s ongoing “great reshuffle”, with increasing labor force participation during the pandemic, including by women; foreign workers leaving in large numbers; and job churning at almost 7%: “whether these trends translate into productivity gains will ultimately depend on the extent to which worker reallocation is from low to high productivity firms” (h/t Anush Bezhanyan).

And from MENA to a topic that is quite central to that region: how to reform energy subsidies in ways that don’t generate social tensions? Mukherjee and Gelb suggest that cash transfers have a key role to play when enabled by a universal identification system, strong communication, and wide access to financial accounts.

Open access! EDCC has three open access articles on gender and cash transfers (all already reviewed in past links editions when published in different outlets. These include papers by Peterman et al on cash and intimate partner violence in Ghana, De Rock et al on intrahousehold resource allocations in Mexico, and Diaz and Saldarriaga’s work on cash reducing physical intimate partner violence in Peru. And here is an open access book: Iversen et al’s fascinating analysis of social mobility in developing countries.

Final fireworks: Gray Molina et al examine global divergence around debt, decarbonization, vaccine inequities; a report by Moret shows that transferring funds into Afghanistan has become a major challenge for humanitarian non-governmental organizations; and EPRI offers a training on Social Protection for Sustainable Development designed for participants from Ethiopia, Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda and Zambia.


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 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
        • Unconditional cash transfers
      • In kind transfers
        • School feeding programmes
  • Social insurance
  • Labour market / employment programmes
Social Protection Building Blocks: 
  • Programme design
  • Programme implementation
    • Benefits payment / delivery
    • Informations Systems (MIS, Social Registry, Integrated Registry)
Social Protection Approaches: 
  • Social protection systems
Cross-Cutting Areas: 
  • Disaster risk management / reduction
  • Food and nutritional security
  • Gender
  • Health
  • Labour market / employment
  • Poverty reduction
  • Ethiopia
  • Ghana
  • Kenya
  • Tanzania
  • Uganda
  • Zambia
  • Brazil
  • Mexico
  • Peru
  • United States
  • Jordan
  • Saudi Arabia
  • Syria
  • Latin America & Caribbean
  • Middle East & North Africa
The views presented here are the author's and not socialprotection.org's