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Chile: Can subsidies and social workers make a difference for the poorest?

Research area:Conditional cash transfers
Evaluation Sample: 
Timeline:2002-2006 (Completed)
Intervention:Social services, cash transfers
Researchers:Emanuela Galasso, Pedro Carneiro, Theresa Jones
Partners:World Bank, Ministry of Planning


Chile Solidario was an innovative poverty program set up to target extremely poor families in Chile who were not accessing the social welfare services to which they were entitled. It provided a coordinated approach to help families access social services, including regular social worker visits, in addition to cash subsidies such as child allowances. When the program was evaluated, the government sought to better understand how to successfully reach families in extreme poverty and encourage them to take up programs for which they were eligible. The goal was to see whether a more targeted approach, including using a social workers, would help boost incomes and stabilize housing, among other things. The program was launched in 2002 with World Bank support. In 2009 it was replaced by a conditional cash transfer program called Ingreso Etico Familiar, with a targeted cash transfer supplemented by a conditional cash transfer related to children’s schooling and health and a conditional cash transfer to promote female labor force participation and learning outcomes.

During the period the program was rolled out between 2002 and 2006, some 225,000 families in poor areas of Chile were enrolled. They were assigned a social worker to help them identify and apply for services for which they were eligible and received gradually decreasing cash subsidies over a five-year period.

To analyze the impact of the program, researchers compared families just above the cut-off point for eligibility, with those just below. By employing this method, called regression discontinuity design, researchers could attribute differences in use of assistance programs, in employment and in income, among other measurements, to participation in the program. The evaluation combined information from administrative records used by the government to identify people eligible for social programs, with survey data collected specifically for the evaluation. The survey data was used for more detailed and in-depth measurements of psychological outcomes and income.

Chile Solidario led to families becoming better connected to the welfare system, particularly in terms of taking up the child allowance for which they were eligible and using employment programs. Howeverm there was no impact on employment or housing conditions, two important indicators of wellbeing. As the evaluation concluded, connecting households with social services was not enough to produce significant gains in their wellbeing.