Monthly unconditional income supplements starting at birth: Experiences among mothers of young children with low incomes in the U.S.

Sarah Halpern-Meekin, Lisa A. Gennetian, Jill Hoiting, Laura Stilwell, Lauren Meyer

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Recently, U.S. advocates and funders have supported direct cash transfers for individuals and families as an efficient, immediate, and non-paternalistic path to poverty alleviation. Open questions remain, however, about their implementation. We address these using data from debit card transactions, customer service call-line logs, and in-depth interviews from a randomized control study of a monthly unconditional cash gift delivered via debit card to mothers of young children living near the federal poverty line. Because much of the impact of the intervention occurs through mothers’ decisions about how to allocate the Baby's First Years (BFY) money, we argue that implementation science must recognize the role of policy targets in implementing policy, not just in terms of policy outcomes but also policy implementation processes. Further, our analysis shows that mothers experience key aspects of the cash intervention's design as intended: they viewed the cash gift as unconditional and knew the money was reliable and would continue monthly, receiving the correct amount with few incidents. Delivering funds via debit card worked well, offering mothers flexibility in purchasing. We also illuminate how design features shaped mothers’ experiences. First, although they knew it was unconditional, the social meaning of the BFY money to mothers—seen as “the baby's money”—shaped their engagement with and allocation of it. Second, low public visibility of mothers’ receipt of this money limited the financial demands or requests from others, potentially facilitating more agency over and a greater ability to use the money as they chose, without claims from kin.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)871-898
Number of pages28
JournalJournal of Policy Analysis and Management
Issue number3
StatePublished - Jun 1 2024

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Business, Management and Accounting
  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Public Administration


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