PROJECTInnovations in Cash Assistance for Children

Exploring how cash assistance policies can enhance child well-being

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    In 2021, a temporary expansion of the child tax credit delivered a maximum of $3,000 to $3,600 per child to families, including to parents earning little or no income. The novel shift to distributing the full benefit to families with even very low incomes was integral to slashing the child poverty rate by almost half, from 9.7 percent to a record-low 5.2 percent.

    That outcome unfolded alongside a proliferation of programs across the country that provide state-level child tax credits as well as guaranteed income pilots that provide regular cash payments to a targeted group of people. The funds come with no spending restrictions and limited or no work requirements.

    The movement among cities and states to provide such assistance with no preconditions attached continues to grow with public and philanthropic support. So, too, does a national debate about what cash payments for parents with low and moderate incomes could mean for the long-term well-being of their children. And while a large body of evidence suggests that receiving cash benefits can mitigate the harms that poverty causes children, research is still emerging on the broader influence of cash payments on children’s development, as well as on what policy designs are most effective.

    The Urban Institute’s Innovations in Cash Assistance for Children Initiative, in partnership with the Berkeley Opportunity Lab, is addressing these gaps by developing, tracking, and translating evidence to inform policymakers, advocates, community leaders, and practitioners on the front lines of the evolving cash assistance debate.

    Our experts are assessing how recent cash programs, policies, and proposals affect the following:

    • diverse populations of children ages 18 and younger, both in the near term and over the course of their lives, especially children growing up in families with very low incomes
    • incidences of child abuse and neglect and children’s involvement in the child welfare system; children’s school attendance, performance, and discipline issues; and the health and mental health of parents and children, as well as their involvement in the criminal legal system
    • persistent racial disparities in outcomes for Black, Latinx, Native American, and other children of color whose parents have been disproportionately affected by poverty because of historic and ongoing discrimination

    We believe developing and tracking evidence about cash assistance and offering policy design recommendations to best support families not only will strengthen decisionmaking among frontline change agents, but also could transform the well-being of millions of children whose basic needs are not being met—and shape a healthier, more prosperous future for them.

    Learn more about our research on cash assistance for families with children. 


    The Urban Institute’s Innovations in Cash Assistance for Children Initiative is funded by the Doris Duke Foundation and the Annie E. Casey Foundation. We are grateful to them and to all of our funders, who make it possible for Urban to advance its mission

    If you're interested in providing a grant or donation to expand Urban's work on cash assistance for families with children, please contact [email protected].