Panel: US Social Safety Net Programs and Policies and the Wellbeing of Children and Adults
(Poverty and Income Policy)

Friday, November 9, 2018: 3:15 PM-4:45 PM
8206 - Lobby Level (Marriott Wardman Park)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

Panel Chairs:  James P. Ziliak, University of Kentucky
Discussants:  Charles Michalopoulos, MDRC and Christopher A. Swann, University of North Carolina, Greensboro

Do SNAP Work Requirements Work?
Timothy F. Harris, Illinois State University

Welfare Time Limits and Participation
Gabrielle Pepin, Michigan State University

Effect of Insurance Subsidies on Health Insurance Coverage
Yue Li, State University of New York, Albany

The Intergenerational Effects of Head Start
Esra Kose, Bucknell University

This session includes four papers on US social safety net programs and policies and their effects on the economic wellbeing of children and adults. These programs, which include SNAP, Medicaid, TANF, and Head Start, are intended to decrease poverty and inequality through cash or in-kind transfers to low-income populations. Hence, increased program generosity may increase the effectiveness of such policies while increased barriers to eligibility may limit effectiveness through decreased program access. Harris and Pepin estimate the effects of stricter program policies on outcomes. Specifically, Harris estimates the effect of SNAP work requirements for able-bodied adults without dependents (ABAWDS) on employment by comparing labor supply responses of workers who fall just above and below the age threshold at which work requirements bind. This work contributes to current policy debates on the efficacy of work requirements as a condition for social safety net program eligibility more broadly. Pepin uses policy variation across states and over time to estimate the effects of stricter time limit policies within the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program on adult welfare participation. She finds that stricter time limit policies cause large decreases in welfare use, which suggests that such program policies may also affect labor force participation decisions, child outcomes, and participation in other social safety net programs to which eligibility may be linked.

Li and Kose, in contrast, estimate the effects of increased access to program benefits. Li exploits variation over time and across divorced and separated individuals in non-Medicaid expansion states to estimate the effects of health insurance subsidies on coverage, labor supply, and poverty. She finds that these health insurance subsidies increase coverage and labor supply and reduce poverty. This suggests that health insurance subsidies may lead to decreases in inequality through increases in both employment and healthcare access. Finally, Kose estimates the effect of maternal access to early childhood programs on infant health, using the rollout of Head Start as identification. She finds that program access increases infant birth weight on average and reduces the frequency of low birth weight infants, especially among black infants. Program access also is associated with increases in mother education and decreases in the frequency of births and smoking and drinking during pregnancy. These findings imply that access to early childhood programs may lead to decreases in intergenerational inequality and that examining changes in child outcomes alone may lead one to severely underestimate the welfare effects of Head Start. Taken as a whole, this research suggests that US social safety net programs and policies can affect the economic and health outcomes of both children and adults and, therefore, that such policy decisions have implications for poverty, inequality, and intergenerational mobility within the US.

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