An 'Unprecedented Social Policy Experiment' That May Greatly Help Families

Cash transfers to families that start this week have potential to make a big difference in American families' lives, expert says.

DURHAM, N.C. -- Millions of U.S. families will begin receiving a monthly child cash allowance today as part of the American Rescue Plan signed into law by President Joe Biden in March. Duke University professor Lisa Gennetian, co-author of a new report that makes a case for cash transfers to families with children based on evidence and best practices published this week in Behavioral Science & Policy, is available to comment.

“This week, the U.S. is embarking on an unprecedented social policy experiment to support the needs of low-income children and families – the most significant anti-poverty measure taken since President Johnson’s War on Poverty in the 1960s,” says Lisa A. Gennetian, professor of public policy at Duke University.

“Unlike other well-intended U.S. social policies like food or child care subsidies, the receipt of cash comes with few conditions or restrictions. The payments are also being disbursed on a predictable monthly schedule.” 

“This is the first time that low-income families in the U.S. are being entrusted to make choices about how to spend and use the money in ways that will work best for them and their children.” 

“If the full amount is received as intended, the U.S. expanded child tax credit could have important positive impacts for children and families, from paying down debt to making sure food is on the table.”

“By expanding household income, cash transfers may enable parents to increase investments in child health and development and take advantage of other available support programs. And, by lowering the stress that accompanies scarcity, they may enable caregivers to make better decisions for themselves and their children.”

“Cash transfers not only support the ethical goal of an equitable society, they also increase the odds that recipient adults and their children will thrive and thereby contribute to the economic development of their communities.”