Effective Altruism

Kevin Lewis

March 19, 2023

The COVID Cash Transfer Study: The Impacts of a One-Time Unconditional Cash Transfer on the Well-Being of Families Receiving SNAP in Twelve States
Natasha Pilkauskas et al.
Journal of Policy Analysis and Management, forthcoming


There is growing interest in the use of unconditional cash transfers as a means to alleviate poverty, yet little is known about the effects of such transfers in the U.S. This paper reports on the results of a randomized controlled study of a one-time $1,000 unconditional cash transfer in May 2020 to families with low incomes in 12 U.S. states. The families were receiving, or had recently received, Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits. We examine the impact of the cash transfer on five pre-registered outcomes (material hardship, mental health, parenting, child behavior, partner relationships) and several secondary outcomes (hardship avoidance, consumption, employment, benefit use). We find no statistically significant effects (powered to detect effects of 0.09 standard deviations) of the cash transfer on any outcomes for the full sample. In pre-specified exploratory analyses, we find significant reductions in material hardship (-0.17 standard deviations) among families with less than $500 of earnings in the previous month, roughly the bottom 50 percent of monthly earnings for the study sample.

Fighting Poverty One Family at a Time: Experimental Evidence from an Intervention with Holistic, Individualized, Wrap-Around Services
William Evans et al.
NBER Working Paper, February 2023 


Families in poverty face numerous barriers to establishing stable economic footing. This paper examines the effect of a holistic, individualized wrap-around service intervention on outcomes for low-income individuals. The intervention includes a detailed assessment, an individualized service plan, intensive case management administered by a two-person team with small caseloads, and temporary financial assistance used to overcome obstacles to self-sufficiency and incentivize behavior. We evaluate the intervention through a randomized controlled trial among participants seeking assistance at a local social service provider. Results indicate that the program improved labor market and housing outcomes two years after enrollment. Given the customized nature of the services, overall program effects might mask important heterogeneity. Exploratory analysis suggests the program helped employ participants who lacked employment but had stable housing, and that those without stable housing were helped in securing it.

SNAP Participation and Emergency Department Use
Rajan Anthony Sonik et al.
Pediatrics, February 2023 

Objectives: To examine whether Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) participation is associated with emergency department use among low-income children and whether any such association is mediated by household food hardship and child health status and/or moderated by special health care needs (SHCN) status. We hypothesized SNAP to be associated with reduced likelihoods of emergency department use, with greater effect sizes for children with SHCN and mediation by food hardship and health status.

Methods: In this secondary analysis, we estimated a bivariate probit model (with state-level SNAP administrative policies as instruments) within a structural equation modeling framework using pooled cross-sectional samples of children in low-income households from the 2016 to 2019 iterations of the National Survey of Children’s Health (n = 24 990).

Results: Among children with and without SHCN, respectively, SNAP was associated with: 22.0 percentage points (pp) (95% confidence interval [CI] 12.2–31.8pp) and 17.1pp (95% CI 7.2–27.0pp) reductions in the likelihood of household food hardship exposure (4.8pp difference-in-differences, 95% CI 2.3–7.4pp), 9.7pp (95% CI 3.9–15.5pp) and 7.9pp (95% CI 2.2–13.6) increases in the likelihood of excellent health status (1.9pp difference-in-differences, 95% CI 0.7–3.0pp), and 7.7pp (95% CI 2.9–12.5pp) and 4.3pp (95% CI 1.0–7.6pp) reductions in the likelihood of emergency department use (3.4pp difference-in-differences, 95% CI 1.8–5.1pp).

The Effect of Community Organizing on Landlords’ Use of Eviction Filing: Evidence from U.S. Cities
Andrew Messamore
Social Problems, forthcoming 


Eviction filing rates have declined in many large cities in the United States. Existing scholarship on eviction, which focuses on discrete tenant-landlord relationships, has few explanations for this decline. I consider whether community organizing by nonprofit organizations shapes the social organization of communities and causes landlords to file fewer eviction filings. In cities where tenant and anti-poverty organizing has become common, community-oriented nonprofit organizations advocate for disadvantaged communities and help residents avoid poverty. Community organizing has rarely been studied as a predictor of housing security among low-income tenants, despite studies of how community organizing shapes the use of property in wealthy neighborhoods. I estimate the causal effect of community organizations on eviction filing rates between 2000 and 2016 using longitudinal data and a strategy to account for the endogeneity of nonprofits and eviction. Evidence from year-to-year models in 75 large cities spanning sixteen years estimate that an addition of ten community nonprofits in a city of 100,000 residents is associated with a ten percent reduction in eviction filing. This effect is comparable to the effect of community organizations on murder and is roughly a third of the association between eviction and concentrated disadvantage.

Propensity to Consume Food Out of SNAP and Its Welfare Implications
Jintaek Song
Yale Working Paper, November 2022 


I use new consumer-panel data of shopping history across multiple grocery retailers and restaurants to estimate the marginal propensity (MPC) to consume food out of the benefit dollars of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). The MPC for food-at-home out of SNAP benefits is 44 cents, which is lower than the 59 cents that Hastings and Shapiro (2018) obtained using a single retailer’s data. I show that an estimate from a single retailer can be substantially biased when shoppers differentially select which payment method to use across stores, and I document substantial selection in practice. Next, I assess the implications of in-kind vs. cash transfer using two distinct normative views. From a behavioral revealed-preference view that an in-kind transfer induces a choice mistake because of mental accounting, I estimate an efficiency loss of 12 cents per dollar of in-kind transfer. From the paternalistic view of valuing nutrition outcomes, I find that providing in-kind benefits rather than cash leads to an increase of 775 calories per day in food purchased without providing a gain in dietary quality.


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