A round up of key cash transfers papers for 2020


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Over the past year, the weekly social protection links issued 45 editions and reviewed 840 papers. So let me flash out some of my favorite 2020 materials articulated around 15 thematic buckets.

A global picture is painted by our living paper on social protection responses; the ILO has a nice World Social Protection Data Dashboards; lots of materials shared at the global conference on social protection and Covid hosted by socialprotection.org; Barca curates the SPACE Covid-19 social protection resources; Bottan et al found that Bolivia’s Renta Dignidad reduced the probability of going hungry by 40%; Abay et al show that the PSNP in Ethiopia largely protected from food insecurity; in South Africa, Arndt et al argue the importance of safety nets in the event of ‘black swan’ shocks; a 2-pager by Itcovitz defines Togo’s Novissi cash transfers as “exemplary”; and in the US, Bitler shows how delivery problems hampered the safety net response while Moffitt and Ziliak suggest to tying scale-up decisions to objective triggers.

Payment-related choices

Gelb and Mukherjee argue that digital payments have played a vital role in Covid19 response; Gronbach documents an increase in the use of electronic payment instruments for cash transfers; the SPACE initiative produced a useful updated matrix of payment mechanisms and examined their pros, cons and implementation requirements; case studies produced by the World Bank provide insights on cash payments in Pakistan, Brazil, Ecuador, Peru, Colombia, Jordan, and South Africa; by evaluating lump-sum cash transfers in Kenya and Malawi, Thakral and To find higher savings and assets among households that wait longer to receive the payment; Carraro et al lay out key considerations for calibrating transfer size; and McLean et al explore the difference in transfer size-setting between safety nets and humanitarian assistance.

Targeting and universality 

Premand and Schnitzer examine the performance of proxy means test, community-based targeting and food consumption scores in Niger; Coady and Le interpret trade-offs in targeting in the light of optimal taxation; Dervisevic et al explore how community targeting for public works performs against a proxy means test (PMT) method in Laos; Altindag et al show that in Lebanon, administrative targeting performs approximately as well as a PMT; Gassmann and Timar assess affluence tests in Kyrgyzstan; Aizawa shows that universalizing the Janani Suraksha Yojana conditional cash transfer benefitted everyone, and the poor in particular; Nowack and Schodereron contrast the effects universal vs means-tested programs on social and institutional trust; Gazeaud finds inherent errors in PMT in Tanzania; and Gentilini et al offer a 360-degree tour of evidence and practices on universal basic income.

Other design and delivery choices

Lindert et al launched the social protection delivery systems sourcebook; a report by GIZ and ADB unbundles the risks and opportunities with artificial intelligence in social protection; Barca and Hebbar explore dynamic inclusion and data updating in safety nets; Smith and Bowen provided handy checklists on adaptation practices across the delivery chain; Williams et al show how to make social protection ‘adaptive’ to crises in LAC; Bowen et al have a new book setting out a framework for adaptive social protection; in the US, Gray et al show that work requirements in SNAP food vouchers led to 52% decline in program participation; in Kenya, Heinrich and Knowles how that hard and soft conditions yield similar effects, with harder conditions also generating some negative unintended consequences’; and Banks et al explore how social protection should consider disability-inclusive tweaks.

Costing and financing

Almenfi et al investigate “where does the money come from” in Covid-19 responses; Molina and Ortiz-Juarez simulate the cost for a “temporary basic income” for almost 3 billion people; and the ILO estimated that the pandemic increased the social protection financing gap has increased by 30%; and a paper by Oxfam and Development Pathways calls for boosting social protection by 2% of GDP on average.

Poverty and consumption

In Niger, Premand and Stoeffler document that transfers increase household consumption by 10%;. Lustig et al estimate that additional spending on social assistance largely offsets the pandemic’s impacts in Brazil and Argentina; the Foundations for Social Change shows the positive outcomes when providing cash transfers to homeless populations; in the US, Coibion et al show that only 40% of cash transfers for Covid19 was spent; Banerjee et al document how shocks wiped out the effects of UBI in Kenya;  Brune et estimate the combined provision of cash transfers and assets work in war-torn Yemen; and Vivalt estimates that government-run programs (including 13 cash transfers) have smaller effects than academic or NGO-managed schemes.

Human capital 

Cahyadi et al find that 6 years of cash transfers in Indonesia reduced stunting by 23%; Gilligan et al present quantitative evidence from Ethiopia’s SNNP region combining cash transfers with an integrated package of multisectoral nutrition services; in Togo, Briaux et al found that unconditional cash transfers provided in the first “1000 days” had a protective effect on child’s growth; in El Salvador, Sanchez Chico et al estimate that conditional cash transfers affect human capital up to 6 years after their commencement; Angrist et al find that cash transfers are not a cost-effective tool to improve learning; Owusu-Addo et al articulate the transmission channels through which cash transfers can affect the social determinants of health; De Brauw and Peterman present new evidence from El Salvador’s cash transfers showing impacts on maternal health at the time of birth; and Pescarini et al show that in Brazil, receiving Bolsa cash transfers before diagnosis led to better leprosy treatment adherence.

Labor markets

Gerard et al find that Brazil’s Bolsa generated large positive multipliers outpace its micro disincentives; Fruttero et al find that Bolsa beneficiaries are between 3.3 and 4.7 percentage points more likely to find formal jobs; in India, recipients of a package of cash transfers and assets improved living conditions via self- and wage-employment 10 years after the program; Schanzenbach and Strain trace the effects of the Earned Income Tax Credit program in the US since 1975; Prifti et al show that small cash transfers in Tigray led to tiny reductions in child labor and no improvements in school attendance; in India, Unnikrishnan and Sen shows that having a person eligible for social pensions in the household increases the probability of working by 3.2 percentage points for women aged 20–50; in Denmark, reducing benefits had no positive employment effects among the unemployed; Escudero and Liepmann review the impact of cash transfers combined with training and other employment services; Hajdu et al find that child grants in South Africa have a wide range of productive livelihood impacts, but also offer a clear-eyed view of their structural limits; Jayachandran summarizes the effects of cash transfers on small-scale entrepreneurship in Mexico, Kenya, Uganda, and Central America; in Lesotho, by Prifti et al document that cash transfers increase farm profitability, but impacts are limited to ‘viable’ recipients with land and labor capacity; Sabates-Wheeler et al examine the (limited) long-run effects of the PSNP on ‘graduation’ of beneficiaries over a decade of implementation; and Thomas et al show that in Kenya, the program narratives influence beneficiaries’ motivations and thereby the effects of cash transfers.


In Pakistan, after 5-8 years of implementation BISP generated substantial impact on women’s mobility and voting behavior; Quarterman and Peterman lay out a 18-point checklist to better integrate social protection with gender based violence (GBV) during Covid-19; Zimmerman et al have a report on gender and digital cash transfers; UNICEF’s Innocenti Office of Research devised a conceptual framework on gender-responsive, age-sensitive social protection; in Mali, Lees et al find that cash transfers had limited effects on women’s agency to challenge male authority and control over sexual and financial matters; a cross-country review by Baranov et al finds that cash reduces intimate partner violence (physical and emotional); and Azier et al show that cash provided to American mothers between 1911 and 1930 didn’t affect subsequent work, marriage and fertility decisions. 


In India, NREGA was expanded by 22%, with over half (55%) of the “job cards” issued in the ‘high’ outmigrant districts; in Mali, Hidrobo et al estimate that cash transfers increase the probability of rural-rural migration among women by 50%, and men by… 100%; and Mukherjee documents the Corona Assistance program for Bihari migrant workers stranded outside the state due to the lockdown. 

Psychological wellbeing

McGuire et al estimate that cash transfers increase a wellbeing index by 0.1 standard deviations; Haushofer et al find that a large one-off transfer had greater psychological effects than a five-week psychotherapy program; in the US, Singh et al show that transfers are associated with a 15.23-year increase in self-reported lifespan among men, but not women; in Malawi, Ohrnberger et document that cash improved mental health significantly; Ridley et al in review the effects of cash transfers on suicides; in Brazil, Oliveira Alves et al find that that an increase in the duration of high Bolsa CCT coverage (of 70% or more) is associated with a fall in suicide rates; and in Indonesia, Hensel finds that cash reduces suicides by 18%.


In Indonesia, Ferraro and Simorangkir estimate that cash transfers reduced tree cover losses by 30%; Iqbal and Nawaz show that in Pakistan, BISP cash transfers help households switch away from traditional fuels like wood and bolster the use of existing electrical appliances; and in Mexico, Garg et al show that a 1-degree Celsius increase in temperature raises homicide risk by 2.1%, but cash transfers reduce such effect by 50-67%.

Social cohesion and violence 
Garcia and Cuertas show that in Colombia transfers increased the probability of receiving informal support from others by 10 percentage points; in Indonesia, Sumarto finds that the 2006 BLT cash program sparked community conflicts and protests in 651 villages; and in Zimbabwe, cash plus supplemental information on child well-being and related services reduced violence against children and adolescents by 19 percentage points. 


Orkin and Walker show that in Kenya, receiving a cash transfer does not affect household’s voter turnout, vote choice, or favorability ratings of candidates; in the same country, Porisky shows that local politicians have limited influence over the distribution of transfers; Conover et al find that in Colombia, cash transfers increase political participation by women as well as votes for incumbent politicians; Ghorpade and Justino explore how in Pakistan the BISP cash transfer program improved attitudes towards the state; and in South Africa, Nnaeme et al show that cash transfers can help generate citizens’ agency. 

Displacement and humanitarian assistance 

Ozler et al evaluate the impact of the Emergency Social Safety Net (ESSN) cash transfers for 1.7M refugees in Turkey; a thoughtful report by ICRC argues that cash is often appropriate, but not always so in conflict situations; Sterck et al study the problem of debt among refugees receiving cash transfers in Kenya’s Kalobeyei settlement; CaLP’s State of the World’s Cash 2020 cash and vouchers now represent 18% of global humanitarian assistance; Longhurst et al have a high-level paper on humanitarian-social protection linkages; Jaspars et al discuss power dynamics around humanitarian assistance in Somalia; and Chaaban et al show that the effects of a large cash transfer on Syrian refugees in Lebanon faded away within 4 to 10 months after program discontinuation.


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