Adaptive, but Not by Design: Cash Transfers in Latin America and the Caribbean Before, During and After the COVID-19 Pandemic

The socioeconomic crisis associated with the pandemic put cash transfer programs back at the top of the policy agenda. It revealed that income support systems in the Latin American and Caribbean (LAC) region were both fundamental and insufficient. In this paper, we present novel estimates of the coverage and beneficiary distribution of all non-contributory cash transfers both before and during the COVID-19 crisis. During the crisis, LAC governments implemented 111 new cash transfer interventions, increasing average coverage to 34% of the population in 12 countries with available data. Average coverage increased among the moderate poor (50%) and vulnerable population (37%), while it remained unchanged among the extreme poor. Moving forward, the countries of the region are called on to reform their social protection systems to make them more flexible, efficient, and sustainable, and to include strategies that provide protection against shocks. In this way, resilient and responsive social protection systems can contribute to the fight against climate change and support a just transition toward net-zero emission societies. These efforts must also include measures to close the historical coverage gap among the poorest.