January 27, 2020  |  Chicago Events

Direct Cash Transfers: Lessons From the Field

By Ebony Scott, FII-Chicago Director

On January 16th, thanks to the generous support of Google and the Chicago Community Trust, Family Independence Initiative-Chicago hosted a lively discussion on cash transfer mechanisms and their ability to help alleviate poverty for millions of Americans. The panel was moderated by former Regional HUD Administrator and philanthropist William “Bill” Block. Panelist Dr. Matthew Morton opened the discussion by providing a definition of what cash transfers are and walked the audience through how the international community, starting in Mexico, has adopted cash transfers as a means to alleviate extreme poverty and the role the World Bank has played in the expansion of cash transfers to places like Afghanistan. 

Panelist Dr. Aisha Nyandoro, CEO of Springboard to Opportunities, shared how her cash transfer project, the Magnolia Mothers Trust is also highly focused on learning from the social capital exchanges occurring among the participants. Sukhi Samra, Director of the Stockton SEED project, highlighted how they are also working to provide optional support services to recipients, a sentiment others on the panel shared as each agreed that cash transfers are not a “silver bullet” and optional services are often sought by participants. Each panelist stressed however that any offering of additional supports should be guided by what participants are asking for and never be mandated.

The panel also dug into the importance of research and evaluation, so that modifications to cash transfer mechanisms can be made as administrators learn from the data being collected. Dr. Morton shared an interesting example from the international community where data revealed that in certain instances cash transfers made to women, led to an uptick in domestic violence. The additional cash and level of freedom it created caused an unintended increases in violence against women by men who felt their position and authority were being threatened as women gained economic independence. As researchers learned from these unintended consequences they were able to adjust the design and delivery in countries that are highly patriarchal and where domestic violence rates are inherently high.  Dr. Morton went on to share that cash transfers are actually the most rigorously studied social intervention of the modern era with about 164 academic studies having been conducted internationally. 

FII Family Partner and Coalition Director for Economic Security Illinois Amber Wilson shared her experience both as someone receiving an unconditional cash transfer and as a professional now working to use the Earned Income Tax Credit to get more cash to more Americans starting here in Illinois. The morning was full of very rich learning and provided deep insight into how and why we must work toward the expansion of cash transfer programs domestically.

Watch the entire panel here:

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