The U.S. safety net has changed substantially in the past two decades. The role of direct cash assistance has diminished, while the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) has expanded. Traditional forms of non-cash assistance such as Food Stamps, WIC, and Head Start comprise a larger share of the safety net than ever before.
Our Research Affiliates are finding that many non-cash programs make a substantive difference in families’ well-being, even if these programs do not increase families’ cash income. Affiliates also actively pursue research agendas that embrace a broader set of programs that assist low income groups such as education and health care programs. Many of these programs have not traditionally been considered part of the safety net but play a crucial role affecting poor families’ well-being.
Although a growing number of studies suggest that providing poor families with income supplements of as little as $1,000 per year will improve children’s well-being, many poor children miss important sources of income support provided through the tax system because their parents either do not work or do not file taxes. Accessing assistance through means-tested programs is also challenging.
In the classroom at Kit Carson Middle School in Sacramento, Michal Kurlaender sits at one of four small desks pushed to face each other. The walls are papered in yellow, red and bright blue, and wavy corrugated borders frame a flutter of papers under the banner “AMAZING.”
Kurlaender is interviewing a teacher as part of her evaluation of the school’s teacher development program to improve students’ college readiness skills. The sudden, grating buzz of the class bell startles everyone. Kurlaender smiles. “It’s nicer when it’s the music instead,” she says.
Center Executive Committee Member & Faculty Affiliate Michal Kurlaender and colleague Eric Grodsky have garnered a lot of attention, especially in light of the recent Supreme Court Ruling on affirmative action in Fisher v. University of Texas. This paper is forthcoming in Sociology of Education.
The 1996 welfare reform led to sweeping changes to the central cash safety net program for families with children. Along with other changes, the reform imposed lifetime time limits for receipt of cash welfare, effectively ending its entitlement nature for these families. Despite dire predictions, previous research has shown that program caseloads declined and employment increased, with no detectible increase in poverty or worsening of child well-being. Research Affiliate Hilary Hoynes reevaluates these results in light of the severe 2007–09 recession.
This project evaluates the health impacts of a signature initiative of the War on Poverty: the introduction of the modern Food Stamp Program (FSP). The literature is far from settled as to what casual impact (if any) the FSP has on nutrition and health. Research Affiliate Hilary Hoynes explores the impact of the FSP, one of the largest antipoverty programs in the United States (comparable in cost to the earned income tax credit and substantially larger than Temporary Assistance to Needy Families program) in an attempt to understand FSP effects. While valuable in its own right, this project also reveals much about the relationship between income and health.
A central question in public finance, one that has generated decades of research, is how tax and transfer programs affect labor supply. Treating food stamp benefits as an income transfer, Research Affiliate Hilary Hoynes uses a quasi-experimental approach to estimate the impact of the program on labor supply.
A large body of literature evaluates the extent to which the Supplemental Program for Women Infants and Children (WIC) has accomplished the goal of improving nutritional well-being and health of low income families, but most studies have been based on research designs that compare program participants to non-participants. If selection into these programs is non-random, then such comparisons will lead to biased estimates of the program’s true effects. In this study, investigators use the rollout of the WIC program across counties to estimate the impact of the program on infant health.
School voucher programs have become increasingly widespread in recent years. These programs aim to expand choice for families: Proponents of voucher programs often argue that they will help the most disadvantaged children, allowing them the opportunity to exit unsafe and underperforming schools.
Head Start is a federally funded early childhood educational intervention program designed to reduce disparities in preschool outcomes. While a recent impact study may indicate that Head Start is ineffective, our Research Affiliates are investigating further to assess whether the program’s long-term effects improve the life chances of participants.