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Monthly cash payments to new mothers can improve a child's brain development, study says

Child Tax Credit website
Posted at 12:43 PM, Jan 28, 2022
and last updated 2022-01-28 14:43:23-05

Some policymakers are putting a new focus on universal basic income programs, which provide monthly cash stipends with no strings attached.

Advocates say targeted cash payments could lift certain Americans out of poverty.

Throughout 2020, the Advance Child Tax Credit made a significant impact on lower- and middle-income families by providing up to $300 per child per month. Many say those cash payments helped them provide for their kids in ways they may not have been able to otherwise.

Another similar program in New York City provides new mothers with between $500 and $1,000 for three years.

New research also shows the impact that similar cash support programs may have on a child's development. It could underscore how sensitive children are to their environments early in childhood.

"Generally, we can think about how cash might help stabilize or support children in their home environments," said Sonya Troller-Renfree of Teacher's College at Columbia University. "Things like paying bills to keep the lights on, or buying cleaning products, but we can also look to see how cash may be used for child-specific items like diapers, or car seats, or a crib."

The "Baby's First Years" study included 1,000 low-income moms shortly after they gave birth. Researchers gave some participants a little more than $300 a month, and the rest received $20 a month.

After a year, researchers tested the infants' brains using special caps that record electrical activity. The study found that children in families who received more money had faster activity in critical areas of their brain, showing stronger cognitive development.

"Because we're able to randomize families between these two groups, the only thing that should be different is this cash gift, and so that is how we're able to say we think the cash gift is what is impacting these brain measurements," Troller-Renfree said.

Researchers will continue to track the study for more info on how families use the cash. They'll also follow up with the kids this summer around their 4th birthday to track their cognitive development.