Researchers are giving 125 new New York moms living on tight budgets $4,000 per year to spend however they want as part of a national study on anti-poverty strategies, THE CITY has learned.
Participating mothers will get $333 in monthly payments for the first three years of their baby’s life to test the impact of unrestricted, reliable income on a child’s development – and on household stress levels.
They’ll be compared with a group of 125 local moms who are paid $20 per month, or $240 per year, as part of a $16 million study that’s also running in and around New Orleans, Omaha and Minneapolis-St. Paul. In all cases, the money will be accessible via a debit card.
“There’s been a growing interest in the notion of unrestricted cash and child allowance as anti-poverty policy,” said Matt Klein, director of the Mayor’s Office for Economic Opportunity, which is contributing $500,000 toward the research. Other funding comes from the National Institutes of Health and private foundations, according to the study website.
“One of the things this study is asking is, is the most straightforward and effective way to ensure that low-income children have developmental opportunities simply to ensure that their families have more income?” Klein said.
City officials say there are 57,563 families across the five boroughs with at least one child younger than 3 whose income falls below the federal poverty level — the threshold for to participate in the study. That line was at $24,858 for a family of four in 2017, the benchmark used by researchers.
The moms in the study are being identified shortly after giving birth at local hospitals. Researchers are focusing on kids from birth to age 3 because that’s believed to be the most important period of emotional and cognitive development in a child’s life.
Looking Toward European Model
A predictable stream of government payments per child — known as a “child allowance” — is a common poverty aide in some European countries. The system is being touted in federal legislation backed by Democrats as part of the 2019 American Family Act.
The closest comparable program currently operating in the United States is the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC). But that benefit applies only to working families of a certain income and comes as a lump sum just once a year.
The American Family Act proposes to expand beyond the reach of EITC, set cash rewards as high as $3,600 per year per child, and pay them in monthly installments of up to $300.
In the United Kingdom, a family with two kids under 16 is entitled to around $2,000 per year of child benefits paid in monthly installments, depending on family income. The payments are roughly $4,800 per year for kids under 6 in Canada — and just over $4,000 for older children – with reduced payments once family income tops $22,600.
The team of researchers — from New York University, Teachers College at Columbia University, the University of Maryland, the University of Wisconsin and University of California, Irvine – will look at everything from a child’s brain and emotional development to how moms choose to spend the debit-card cash.
“Ours is partly a science experiment but it’s partly a policy experiment,” said Greg Duncan, a professor at the School of Education at the University of California, Irvine, who is among the researchers running the study.
“There’s debates all the time about putting work requirements on food stamps. Should we expand the EITC? Should we cut those back?” he added. “All those debates are waged with an exclusive focus for the most part with what’s going to happen to moms’ work…[but] there hasn’t been a focus on kids.”
New York officials wouldn’t say whether the de Blasio administration would consider funding a local child allowance, but noted results from the study could inform future policy.
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