Fact of the Week: Cash Assistance Programs Help Children, Even into Adulthood


December 2, 2014

As I was getting ready for work one day last month, I heard a story on NPR that caught my attention. It caught the attention of my boss, Deborah Weinstein, too, and we talked about it shortly after we both arrived at work that morning. The story involved NPR’s Shankar Vedantam and Steve Inskeep discussing research showing the positive long-term impact of the welfare program. Vedantam highlighted research done by Anna Aizer in which Aizer tracked down children whose mothers received financial assistance between 1911 and 1935 as part a program called the Mothers Pension Program. She also tracked down children of nearly-identical families who didn’t receive assistance due to limited funds. She found that the kids whose families had received welfare lived about a year longer, stayed in school almost a half a year longer, and earned about 15 percent more in young adulthood, on average, than the very similar kids whose families had been turned away.

Cash Assistance CBPP

Image Source: Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, www.cbpp.org/files/6-26-12tax.pdf

The conclusion: cash assistance helps families and kids, even many years later as those kids continue their schooling and become adult workers. Of course, this isn’t the first study to show that cash and cash-like safety net programs work. Research by Greg Duncan and colleagues showed that for each $3,000 a year in added income assistance that young children in a poor family received, their annual earnings as adults rose by 17 percent and their hours worked rose by 135 hours a year.

Additional research shows similar positive outcomes for SNAP/food stamps. One study of the beginnings of the food stamp program in the 1960s found that children whose mothers received food stamps during pregnancy and their early years of life were more likely to be healthier as adults, and that women who had access to SNAP as young children had higher education levels and earnings and were less likely to be reliant on safety net programs as adults. The authors of the study note that “Providing benefits to children at important stages of their development allows them to grow in ways that may help enable them to escape poverty when they reach adulthood” and that,

By investing in children, safety net investments today may actually reduce the costs of the safety net down the line.”

With less than two weeks left in their scheduled lame duck session, Congress will have the chance to act on making the Earned Income Tax Credit and Child Tax Credit permanent. As they make these decisions, we need to make sure they know the important facts about the effectiveness of these programs and how they can impact our children now and the next generation of adults to come.

cash assistance
child poverty
Child Tax Credit
Earned Income Tax Credit
Fact of the Week
Income Support
Poverty and Income