To be eligible for the trial, households must reside in Cambridge or Boston, MA, and have a total earned household income between 0% and 200% of the federal poverty line. Participants in the Cash-only (hereafter, “C”) treatment arm will receive $9,000 over 18 months in fully unconditional payments, paid out as $500 per month. For a household of four living at the poverty line, these payments will raise participants’ annual earned income by 22%. That is, participants in this arm who earn near the poverty line will receive unconditional payments equal to almost three months of income per year. The Social-only (“S”) arm will be placed into peer groups with three to seven other participants in this treatment arm and will be encouraged to interact with their peer groupmates through monthly meetings. They will also be given access to an online platform that aims to help people develop and strengthen social ties, in part by decreasing barriers to help-seeking and -giving. Finally, they will be given a small unconditional payment of $20 per month. Those in the Cash+Social (“CS”) arm will receive the same financial benefits as the Cash treatment arm and the same social capital benefits as the Social treatment arm. Finally, those in the No Treatment Control (“NTC”) arm will receive only the small unconditional payment ($20 per month) and will not be given any opportunity to participate in any of the social interventions.
We will examine the effects of these treatments on a wide range of outcomes, leveraging panel data and a rich and complementary array of datasets. All participants will be asked to complete quarterly surveys, which will ask about financial, psychological, health, and family well-being outcomes. We will also observe transaction-level financial outcomes from checking and savings accounts, including savings stocks, direct deposits of earned income, and late fees charged. Finally, for participants who are recipients of any welfare program administered by our partner state agency, or who have received benefits in the five years before the trial begins, we will also observe administrative data from that agency. This data will include a comprehensive past and present financial profile, welfare applications and receipts, Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefit usage, and employment outcomes, enabling us to verify and complement many survey measures.
The first and most fundamental aim of this study is to quantify the effects of the treatment arms (C, S, and CS), relative to the NTC arm, on our pre-registered outcomes. Specifically, we seek to measure the effects of our treatments on financial (e.g., subjective financial well-being, number of bills left unpaid), psychological (e.g., sense of agency, depression), health (e.g., sleep quality, nutritional quality), and family well-being (e.g., parenting quality, quality of relations with one’s partner) outcomes. Second, we will aim to identify the underlying mechanisms that may drive our treatment effects. To this end, we will examine the roles of both intrapersonal mechanisms (e.g., cognitive capacity, time preferences, risk preferences), as well as interpersonal mechanisms (e.g., sense of support from others, comfort with asking for help, extent to which others are helping one achieve one’s goals). Finally, our study design gives us the opportunity to test whether the treatments work particularly well for specific subpopulations.
Please see the attached preregistration manuscript for more details.