Safety Net Use

  • Karen Jusko
  • Mark Duggan
  • Hilary Hoynes

Leaders: Mark Duggan, Hilary Hoynes, Karen Jusko

The Safety Net RG is devoted to monitoring changes in government transfers and anti-poverty programs and assessing whether they are meeting the needs of the poor. The U.S. safety net is undergoing such changes as (a) an ongoing decline in TANF cash benefits, (b) rapid increases in spending on EITC, Medicaid, Disability Insurance, Unemployment Insurance, and SNAP, and (c) a dramatic shift toward spending that favors the “working poor” over the more destitute. The CPI affiliates working within this research group are monitoring these changes, examining their implications for poverty, assessing the effectiveness of key government and nongovernment programs in reducing poverty, and modeling the costs and benefits of possible changes in policy and programs. We’ve provided a sampling here of some of this ongoing research.

Poverty Relief Project: With Kate Weisshaar, Karen Jusko uses the poverty relief ratio to evaluate the effectiveness of anti-poverty programs over time, across states, and across countries. Which state is the least effective in fighting poverty? Has the U.S. become more or less effective over time? These and other questions are answered in our latest State of the Union reports.

Long-run effects of SNAP: Have we underestimated the returns to SNAP by ignoring the long-run effects on children exposed to it in their early childhood? It’s now possible to find out.

California Welfare LaboratoryThe poverty rate in California, when measured with the Supplemental Poverty Measure, is the highest in the country. What can be done to bring that rate down? The mission of the California Welfare Laboratory is to make research on California’s welfare programs accessible to all and thus facilitate an informed discussion of what is working and what needs to be improved.

Differential EITC effects: It is often argued that early interventions have especially high payoffs.  Are the returns to the EITC indeed larger when it goes to parents with young children?

Disability and poverty: Does the federal government’s disability program reduce labor supply? Although it’s long been difficult to identify a causal effect, Mark Duggan has now found a way.

The effects of TANF: The TANF program is very decentralized and thus takes on dramatically different forms. How can we exploit that variability to find out what’s working?

Safety Net - CPI Research

Title Author Media
State of the Union 2018: Safety Net Linda M. Burton, Marybeth Mattingly, Juan Pedroza, Whitney Welsh

State of the Union 2018: Safety Net

Author: Linda M. Burton, Marybeth Mattingly, Juan Pedroza, Whitney Welsh
Publisher: Stanford Center on Poverty and Inequality
Date: 03/2018

Because women have primary responsibility for the care of children, women use social safety net programs more often than men. Gender differences in safety net use cannot be fully explained by gender differences in family type. The obstacles to engaging with the safety net are often greater for single fathers than single mothers, and single mothers are more likely to receive cash and food assistance. Although some of these gender differences are rooted in differences in eligibility and could thus be straightforwardly addressed, others rest on gender norms and other cultural differences that especially stigmatize safety net use among men.

Marriage, Labor Supply and the Dynamics of the Social Safety Net Hamish Low, Costas Meghir, Luigi Pistaferri, Alessandra Voena

Marriage, Labor Supply and the Dynamics of the Social Safety Net

Author: Hamish Low, Costas Meghir, Luigi Pistaferri, Alessandra Voena
Publisher: NBER
Date: 02/2018

The 1996 PRWORA reform introduced time limits on the receipt of welfare in the United States. We use variation by state and across demographic groups to provide reduced form evidence showing that such limits led to a fall in welfare claims (partly due to “banking” benefits for future use), a rise in employment, and a decline in divorce rates. We then specify and estimate a life-cycle model of marriage, labor supply and divorce under limited commitment to better understand the mechanisms behind these behavioral responses, carry out counterfactual analysis with longer run impacts and evaluate the welfare effects of the program. Based on the model, which reproduces the reduced form estimates, we show that among low educated women, instead of relying on TANF, single mothers work more, more mothers remain married, some move to relying only on food stamps and, in ex-ante welfare terms, women are worse off.

Trends in the Distribution of Social Safety Net Support After the Great Recession Robert A. Moffitt, Gwyn Pauley

Trends in the Distribution of Social Safety Net Support After the Great Recession

Author: Robert A. Moffitt, Gwyn Pauley
Publisher: Stanford Center on Poverty and Inequality
Date: 02/2018

The social safety net is widely recognized as having been quite successful in providing major financial support to low-income families during the Great Recession, one of the most severe economic downturns in modern U.S. history. Safety net expenditures grew in aggregate and were widely distributed to all types of needy families. Before the recession, however, while aggregate transfers to the low-income population also exhibited steady growth, the growth was not equally shared across different types of families. Transfers grew much more for the elderly and disabled relative to the nonelderly and nondisabled, for married-parent families relative to single-parent families, and for families with incomes around the poverty line relative to those with the lowest incomes. This brief discusses whether these pre-recession trends have resumed their course now that the recession is over and most of the additional spending adopted during the recession has been phased out. We find that the favorable effects on aggregate spending on low-income families during the recession have been sustained, with few declines and mostly resumed expenditure growth rather than a return to pre-recession levels. Also, the pre-recession disproportionate growth in support for the elderly, the disabled, and married families has not resumed. However, the gap between support for the poorest families and those with higher incomes has resumed and is growing.

Welfare Reform and the Families It Left Behind H. Luke Shaefer, Kathryn Edin

Welfare Reform and the Families It Left Behind

Author: H. Luke Shaefer, Kathryn Edin
Publisher: Stanford Center on Poverty and Inequality
Date: 01/2018

As early as the year 2000, randomized experiments with programs that were designed to closely resemble welfare reform showed that although the programs reduced poverty overall, they also increased deep poverty. Since that time, research utilizing numerous nationally representative household surveys and other data—using a variety of methods—has documented the stratification of the poor and the rise of disconnected families and $2-a-day poverty. Are these results driven by underreporting in survey data? No. When we control for underreporting, we find that the downward spiral since 1995 is even more dramatic than previously reported. The same is true of findings from SNAP administrative data. Findings from these more robust sources suggest that rather than roughly doubling since welfare reform, $2-a-day poverty tripled or quadrupled. For children in single-mother families, the change is especially dramatic.

Did Welfare Reform Increase Employment and Reduce Poverty? Robert A. Moffitt , Stephanie Garlow

Did Welfare Reform Increase Employment and Reduce Poverty?

Author: Robert A. Moffitt , Stephanie Garlow
Publisher: Stanford Center on Poverty and Inequality
Date: 01/2018

For 60 years, AFDC endured as the country’s best-known cash assistance program for the poor, until Congress replaced it in 1997 with the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program. In a dramatic departure, the new welfare law introduced time limits and work requirements with the goals of encouraging work and discouraging “dependency.” Were those goals realized? There is of course a swirl of opinions on this question. In this article, we review the high-quality research on the law’s effects on work and poverty, with the simple objective of examining whether welfare reform succeeded in reducing dependence on welfare and increasing self-sufficiency.

safety net - CPI Affiliates

Hilary Hoynes's picture Hilary Hoynes Safety Net and Incarceration Research Group Leader, Professor of Public Policy and Economics, Haas Distinguished Chair in Economic Disparities
University of California, Berkeley
Karen Jusko's picture Karen Jusko Safety Net Research Group Leader, Assistant Professor of Political Science
Stanford University
Mark Duggan's picture Mark Duggan Safety Net Research Group Leader, Trione Director, Stanford Institute for Economic Policy Research, Wayne and Jodi Cooperman Professor of Economics
Stanford University
Francisco Pedraza's picture Francisco Pedraza Assistant Professor of Public Policy & Political Science
University of California, Riverside
Gopi Shah Goda's picture Gopi Shah Goda Deputy Director and Senior Fellow, SIEPR
Stanford Institute for Economic Policy Research (SIEPR)

Pages

Safety Net - Other Research

Title Author Media
The Poverty Reduction of Social Security and Means-Tested Transfers Bruce D. Meyer, Derek Wu

The Poverty Reduction of Social Security and Means-Tested Transfers

Author: Bruce D. Meyer, Derek Wu
Publisher: NBER
Date: 05/2018

Many studies examine the anti-poverty effects of social insurance and means-tested transfers, relying solely on survey data with substantial errors. We improve on past work by linking administrative data from Social Security and five large means-tested transfers (SSI, SNAP, Public Assistance, the EITC, and housing assistance) to 2008-2013 Survey of Income and Program Participation data. Using the linked data, we find that Social Security cuts the poverty rate by a third – more than twice the combined effect of the five means-tested transfers. Among means-tested transfers, the EITC and SNAP are most effective. All programs except for the EITC sharply reduce deep poverty (below 50% of the poverty line), while the impact of the EITC is more pronounced at 150% of the poverty line. For the elderly, Social Security single-handedly slashes poverty by 75%, more than 20 times the combined effect of the means-tested transfers. While single parent families benefit more from the EITC, SNAP, and housing assistance, they are still relatively underserved by the safety net, with the six programs together reducing their poverty rate by only 38%. SSI, Public Assistance, and housing assistance have the highest share of benefits going to the pre-transfer poor, while the EITC has the lowest. Finally, the survey data alone provide fairly accurate estimates for the overall population at the poverty line, although they understate the effects of Social Security, SNAP, and Public Assistance. However, there are more striking differences at other income cutoffs and for specific family types. For example, the survey data yield 1) effects of SNAP and Public Assistance on near poverty that are two-thirds and one-half what the administrative data generate and 2) poverty reduction effects of SSI, Social Security, and Public Assistance that are 34-44% of what the administrative data produce for single parent families.

Intergenerational Spillovers in Disability Insurance Gordon B. Dahl, Anne C. Gielen

Intergenerational Spillovers in Disability Insurance

Author: Gordon B. Dahl, Anne C. Gielen
Publisher: NBER
Date: 02/2018

Does participation in a social assistance program by parents have spillovers on their children's own participation, future labor market attachment, and human capital investments? While intergenerational concerns have figured prominently in policy debates for decades, causal evidence is scarce due to nonrandom participation and data limitations. In this paper we exploit a 1993 policy reform in the Netherlands which tightened disability insurance (DI) criteria for existing claimants, and use rich panel data to link parents to children's long-run outcomes. The key to our regression discontinuity design is that the reform applied to younger cohorts, while older cohorts were exempted from the new rules. We find that children of parents who were pushed out of DI or had their benefits reduced are 11% less likely to participate in DI themselves, do not alter their use of other government safety net programs, and earn 2% more in the labor market as adults. The combination of reduced government transfers and increased tax revenue results in a fiscal gain of 5,900 euros per treated parent due to child spillovers by 2014. Moreover, children of treated parents complete an extra 0.12 years of schooling on average, an investment consistent with an anticipated future with less reliance on DI. Our findings have important implications for the evaluation of this and other policy reforms: ignoring parent-to-child spillovers understates the long-run cost savings of the Dutch reform by between 21 and 40% in present discounted value terms.

The Changing Safety Net for Low-Income Parents and Their Children: Structural or Cyclical Changes in Income Support Policy? Bradley Hardy, Timothy Smeeding, James P. Ziliak

The Changing Safety Net for Low-Income Parents and Their Children: Structural or Cyclical Changes in Income Support Policy?

Author: Bradley Hardy, Timothy Smeeding, James P. Ziliak
Publisher: Demography
Date: 01/2018

Refundable tax credits and food assistance are the largest transfer programs available to able-bodied working poor and near-poor families in the United States, and simultaneous participation in these programs has more than doubled since the early 2000s. To understand this growth, we construct a series of two-year panels from the 1981–2013 waves of the Current Population Survey Annual Social and Economic Supplement to estimate the effect of state labor-market conditions, federal and state transfer program policy choices, and household demographics governing joint participation in food and refundable tax credit programs. Overall, changing policy drives much of the increase in the simultaneous, biennial use of food assistance and refundable tax credits. This stands in stark contrast from the factors accounting for the growth in food assistance alone, where cyclical and structural labor market factors account for at least one-half of the growth, and demographics play a more prominent role. Moreover, since 2000, the business cycle factors as the leading determinant in biennial participation decisions in food programs and refundable tax credits, suggesting a recent strengthening in the relationship between economic conditions and transfer programs.

The Long-Run Effects of the Earned Income Tax Credit on Women’s Earnings David Neumark, Peter Shirley

The Long-Run Effects of the Earned Income Tax Credit on Women’s Earnings

Author: David Neumark, Peter Shirley
Publisher: NBER
Date: 12/2017

We use longitudinal data on marriage and children from the Panel Study of Income Dynamics to characterize women’s exposure to the federal and state Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) during their first two decades of adulthood. We then use measures of this exposure to estimate the long-run effects of the EITC on women’s earnings as mature adults. We find some evidence indicating that exposure to a more generous EITC when women were unmarried and had young (pre-school) children leads to higher earnings and hours, and perhaps wages, in the longer run. We also find some evidence that exposure to a more generous EITC when women had young children but were married leads to lower earnings and hours in the longer run. These longer-run effects are to some extent consistent with what we would expect if the short-run effects of the EITC on employment that are documented in other work, and predicted by theory, are reflected in effects of the EITC on cumulative labor market experience (and other consequences of labor market attachment) that influence earnings.

 

Exploding Asthma and ADHD Caseloads: The Role of Medicaid Managed Care Anna Chorniy, Janet Currie, Lyudmyla Sonchak

Exploding Asthma and ADHD Caseloads: The Role of Medicaid Managed Care

Author: Anna Chorniy, Janet Currie, Lyudmyla Sonchak
Publisher: NBER
Date: 10/2017

In the U.S., nearly 11% of school-age children have been diagnosed with ADHD, and approximately 10% of children suffer from asthma. In the last decade, the number of children diagnosed with these conditions has inexplicably been on the rise. This paper proposes a novel explanation of this trend. First, the increase is concentrated in the Medicaid caseload nationwide. Second, nearly 80% of states transitioned their Medicaid programs from fee-for-service (FFS) reimbursement to managed care (MMC) by 2016. Using Medicaid claims from South Carolina, we show that this change contributed to the increase in asthma and ADHD caseloads. Empirically, we rely on exogenous variation in MMC enrollment due a change in the “default” Medicaid plan from FFS or MMC, and an increase in the availability of MMC. We find that the transition from FFS to MMC explains most of the rise in the number of Medicaid children being treated for ADHD and asthma. These results can be explained by the incentives created by the risk adjustment and quality control systems in MMC.