Roundtable: Blending Behavioral Science, Economics, and Practice: Government-Researcher Partnerships to Increase Access to Public Benefits
(Poverty and Income Policy)

Saturday, November 9, 2019: 3:15 PM-4:45 PM
Plaza Building: Concourse Level, Plaza Court 2 (Sheraton Denver Downtown)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

Organizer:  Jacob Binder, J-PAL North America
Moderator:  Kimberly Dadisman, J-PAL North America
Speakers:  Ashley Carleton, Massachusetts Department of Transitional Assistance, Susanna Loeb, Brown University, Julie Moreno, California Franchise Tax Board and Aparna Ramesh, California Policy Lab

In the United States, public benefits programs have incomplete take-up, with many eligible individuals ultimately not enrolling to receive benefits. Of those who do enroll, many often “churn” when they fail to meet recertification requirements and temporarily lose access to benefits.


Public agencies across the United States are experimenting with incorporating behavioral science principles as a strategy for increasing and sustaining enrollment in social services. Evidence from multiple randomized evaluations suggests that even small changes to enrollment processes, such as simplifying information and sending repeated reminders, can improve enrollment in social programs and public benefits. However, other randomized evaluations have found behavioral “nudges” to be ineffective in some contexts. As such, there is an open question around which behaviorally-informed approaches are most effective in improving social service enrollment and delivery.


This roundtable will highlight examples of ongoing and completed randomized evaluations that test the use of behavioral science principles to improve the take-up and delivery of public assistance programs, such as SNAP and EITC. Speakers will discuss their experiences building government-researcher partnerships that allow for the opportunity to experiment with new approaches, evaluate the effectiveness of those efforts, and then repeat additional cycles of innovation and evaluation that incorporate prior learnings.

Ashley Carleton (Massachusetts Department of Transitional Assistance) will share a practitioner’s perspective on the use of rigorous evaluation to test improvements to service delivery, and in particular will discuss the process of designing an evaluation of a text message intervention to reduce SNAP churn. Susanna Loeb (Brown University) will discuss her experience designing and evaluating text messaging platforms to encourage certain behaviors and will share her perspective as the principle investigator working with the Massachusetts Department of Transitional Assistance. Julie Moreno (California Franchise Tax Board) will discuss efforts in California to increase the take-up of the state EITC, and will share reflections on partnering with researchers to test the effectiveness of those efforts. Aparna Ramesh (California Policy Lab) will share additional examples of ongoing randomized evaluations in California that leverage government partnerships to evaluate behaviorally-informed interventions, including the ongoing engagement with the California Franchise Tax Board.

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