Improving delivery of the social safety net: The role of stigma

Abstract: "Many low-income households in the United States miss out on social safety net benefits because of the information, compliance, and psychological costs associated with take-up of government assistance. Yet, the empirical evidence on the impact of learning and psychological costs on take-up, and how to reduce them, is mixed. Leaning on an administrative burden framework, this paper measures the role of reducing learning costs and stigma on demand for rental assistance in two field experiments (N = 117,073) conducted in two US cities. We find that providing information about emergency rental assistance increased program application requests by 52% compared to a no-communication control group. Moreover, subtle framing changes aimed at destigmatizing rental assistance increased engagement with the communication by 36% and increased application requests by about 18% relative to an information-only group, with potentially larger effects for renters of color. In two subsequent online experiments (N = 1,258), we document that the destigmatizing framing reduces internalized stigma, without affecting perceptions of the program itself."


Harvard Kennedy School of Government