Panel: Behavioral Science for Policies Impacting Vulnerable Families: New Innovations from Theory and the Field
(Poverty and Income Policy)

Thursday, November 8, 2018: 10:15 AM-11:45 AM
8224 - Lobby Level (Marriott Wardman Park)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

Panel Chairs:  Crystal Hall, University of Washington
Discussants:  Ines Jurcevic, University of Washington and Emily Schmitt, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services

Financial Shocks and Cognitive Frames: Coping Responses to Financial Emergencies
Vance Larsen, Crystal Hall and Hilary C. Wething, University of Washington

Communicating Program Eligibility: A Supplemental Security Income (SSI) Field Experiment
Elana Safran, Office of Evaluation Sciences / U.S. General Services Administration, Jeffrey Hemmeter, Social Security Administration, John Phillips, National Institutes of Health and Nicholas Wilson, U.S. General Services Administration; Reed College

Decreasing Energy Costs in Federally Assisted Housing
Mary Steffel, Northeastern University, Mary Clair Turner, U.S. General Services Administration and Michael Hand, U.S. Forest Service

In the world of public policy, the field of applied behavioral science continues to provide insights and innovation that span a wide ranging set of policy areas. Social and behavioral scientists have a growing role in the development of strong, evidence-based policy, in the service of more efficient and effective government. To this point, a recent report by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine concluded that research from the social and behavioral sciences has a critical role to play in serving national priorities and advancing the missions of federal agencies. In recent years, there has been many examples of rigorous work that has effectively deployed insights drawn from behavioral science - but many questions and opportunities remain. In this panel, we explore new research that provides further evidence of how this work can be used for the benefit of the most vulnerable populations in the United States.

First, Larsen, Hall and Wething present evidence that provides greater nuance to our understanding of how families are prepared to handle different types of financial emergencies. Several previous studies have suggested that the majority of Americans are unprepared to handle a large financial shock. However, the present work gives more depth by showing how the framing of an emergency seems to predict the means with which individuals believe they would handle a shock. They draw on the field of behavioral economics, mental accounting specifically, to predict and explain this.

Next, Safran, Wilson, Hemmeter, and Phillips - in a collaboration between the United States Office of Evaluation Sciences (OES) and the Social Security Administration - explore variations of communicating eligibility for Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits,a Federal income supplement program designed to help aged, blind, and disabled people, who have little or no income; and provide cash to meet basic needs for food, clothing, and shelter. Survey data suggest that  individuals 65 and older who are eligible for SSI are lower than expected. In a field experiment, they test communication designed to address three hypothesized psychological barriers to participation in the program.

In the third paper, Steffel, Turner and Hand test an intervention designed to reduce energy consumption among individuals living in HUD-assisted housing. Specifically, this intervention explores whether providing individuals with different amounts of information (1 energy tip versus 5 energy tips) in fliers would be effective at decreasing energy use (and the associated costs). This simple communication in could communication could be a cheap and scalable component of a broader strategy to decrease the costs of providing a significant public benefit.

Our discussants, Ines Jurcevic (University of Washington) and Emily Schmitt (HHS Office of Planning, Research, and Evaluation) will discuss how the findings from this work can be applied to some of the challenges facing the design and implementation of other social policies more broadly.

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