Connect with us

Americans don’t agree on whether the poor should chip in or do work in exchange for aid



Americans don’t agree on how safety-net programs should work. For example, Republicans are pushing to strengthen work requirements for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, also known as SNAP or food stamps, and co-payments for Medicaid, which provides low-income people with health insurance. Democratic lawmakers and consumer advocates argue that such obligations deny or strip benefits from those who need them most.


I am a behavioral economist, meaning I study the underlying preferences that drive human behavior and decision-making. To see whether the American public wants the government to make public benefits contingent upon these kinds of requirements, I conducted a study that measured how much of their own money people would donate to food aid programs if recipients had to contribute some of their own time or money to get benefits.

Not surprisingly, my research team found that the public is split on this issue as well.


Economists have been writing and wondering about the costs and benefits of what we call contribution requirements since the 1970s. If no one knows whether recipients value the aid, the thinking goes, then perhaps small fees and other mandates can make it easier to see who values and perhaps needs it most.

This works for all kinds of folks, not just the poor. Any of your neighbors might take a bag of kale harvested from your garden if you offer it for free. Chances are, only those who actually plan to cook the greens or turn them into a salad would be willing to pay even a pittance for it.


However, a trade-off is that work requirements and other contingencies are costly enough for recipients that some of the people who absolutely need a hand won’t get it. A large body of research has found that Medicaid copays and premiums, for example, lead to people who need health coverage not getting any, even if they’re set at just a dollar.

Together with University of California San Diego economist Sally Sadoff, I decided to do a study to see whether the public is aware of these trade-offs, and how they influence support for these programs. This is critical because policymakers need to respond to the preferences of the public.

The value of chipping in

We contacted nearly 5,000 Americans we located through a representative survey panel over the internet. Our approach was simple: Participants got US$8 if they completed our surveys.


Prior to one survey, we asked them how much of that money we were paying them they’d be willing to donate toward food aid programs that we administer through the University of Southern California. In these programs we personally established in partnership with a Los Angeles grocery store, low-income people get bags of fruits and vegetables worth $10.

To learn more about what influences decisions people make about giving, we created different ways that the aid recipients had to contribute to get bags of healthful food. The study’s participants fell into three groups at random. Members of each one heard one of the following things about the produce:

  • Recipients get it for free
  • Recipients pay $1
  • Recipients pay $5

We modeled these programs after co-pay requirements, or the idea that people in need should pay something in exchange for public benefits. Some states like Montana and Michigan already require small premiums and co-pays from Medicaid recipients. Other states are phasing in this cost-sharing approach.


Much of the debate regarding the safety net centers around work requirements – the idea that “able-bodied” aid recipients should do paid work or be in school to be eligible for aid.

Indiana and New Hampshire are both phasing in Medicaid work requirements. Arkansas and Kentucky have tried to do that too, with the Trump administration’s encouragement, but a judge blocked them in March 2019.

Some charities impose work requirements too. People who get new homes through Habitat for Humanity, for example, must put in some “sweat equity” time by helping to build their own place to live.


As a way to ask recipients to give their time rather than spend some money, three other groups of participants in our survey were instead asked to donate to our program at the grocery store in which:

  • Recipients get registered immediately
  • Recipients must spend 5 minutes registering for the programs
  • Recipients must spend 25 minutes registering for the programs

We compared the likelihood of donating any amount and found the most support for the food aid program in which recipients must pay $1, and less support for the free program or the program in which recipients have to pay $5. We also found programs that require recipients to contribute some of their time to be more popular among donors than those that don’t.

Our findings led us to conclude that many people prefer small contribution requirements rather than big ones or there being none at all. At the same time, we determined that most Americans consider bigger demands as too burdensome. Based on what we learned from a detailed questionnaire, we believe this is because they see it as an effective way to get food aid to those who value it most.


Can they afford it?

In a follow-up study, we surveyed people about which approach they would support out of six options. This time, we replaced the no-wait-time one with making people wait for 45 minutes.

The free program without any obligation to wait was the most popular, garnering 29% support, followed closely by $1-payment option, at 26% and the one with a 5-minute wait time, at 23%. In contrast, only 12% said they would support the $5 payment requirement. Hardly anyone, just 3%, said they would want to make people wait 45 minutes and just 8% preferred a 25-minute wait time.

We also asked participants to rate how much they agree with common reasons for supporting each program. For example, we asked whether having families pay for the program is a good way to identify those who most value nutritious food. About half agreed with this and similar sentiments. About half also expressed concerns that low-income families may not be able to afford to pay that much.


In other words, typical Americans – just like political and thought leaders – are apparently split between a preference for helping people out for free and imposing costs on people who need a hand.

[ Thanks for reading! We can send you The Conversation’s stories every day in an informative email. Sign up today. ]The Conversation

Anya Samek, Associate Professor (Research) of Economics, University of Southern California – Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Report typos and corrections to: [email protected].
Continue Reading

Breaking Banner

New testimony adds 2 stunning — and previously unknown — details about the Ukraine extortion



New testimony released Monday from the House Intelligence Committee’s investigation of the Ukraine scandal included at least two new stunning details about the quid pro quo scheme at the heart of the matter.

Overall, the transcripts for depositions of Catherine Croft and Christopher Anderson, who were advisers to U.S. envoy Kurt Volker, built on the story of that we already know: that President Donald Trump pushed a shadow foreign policy to pressure Ukraine into investigating his political opponents, a scheme that involved using his office and military aid as leverage over the country in opposition to the official policy.

Continue Reading

Breaking Banner

Trump blasted for his ‘Endorsement of Doom’ after Sean Spicer loses on ‘Dancing with the Stars’



Team Trump had gone all in urging supporters to vote for former White House press secretary Sean Spicer on the game show "Dancing with the Stars."

Votes had been urged by RNC officials and Trump himself had urged his 66 million Twitter followers to vote for Spicer.

Despite the full heft of the Trump campaign, Spicer lost on Monday's show.

Trump deleted his failed tweet urging votes for Spicer -- and instead said it was a "great try" by his former advisor.

Looks like this endorsement was as successful as your last one!

Continue Reading

Breaking Banner

‘He’s misunderstood’: Nikki Haley tells Fox News how Trump is actually a really good listener



Former Ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley defended President Donald Trump during a Monday appearance with Fox News personality Sean Hannity.

Hannity asked the former South Carolina governor if Trump was "misunderstood."

"I do think he’s misunderstood," Haley replied.

"I can tell you, from the first day to the last day that I worked for the president, he always listened, he was always conscious of hearing other voices, allowing people to debate out the issues, and then he made his decision," Haley claimed.

She argued that, "I saw a president that was very thoughtful, looked at all of the issues, made decisions, and it was a pleasure and honor to work with him."

Continue Reading
Help Raw Story Uncover Injustice. Join Raw Story Investigates for $1 and go ad-free.