The Long-Term Effects of Income for At-Risk Infants: Evidence from Supplemental Security Income
This paper examines whether a generous cash intervention early in life can "undo" some of the long-term disadvantage associated with poor health at birth. We use new linkages between several large-scale administrative datasets to examine the short-, medium-, and long-term effects of providing low-income families with low birthweight infants support through the Supplemental Security Income (SSI) program. This program uses a birthweight cutoff at 1200 grams to determine eligibility. We find that families of infants born just below this cutoff experience a large increase in cash benefits totaling about 27% of family income in the first three years of the infant's life. These cash benefits persist at lower amounts through age 10. Eligible infants also experience a small but statistically significant increase in Medicaid enrollment during childhood. We examine whether this support affects health care use and mortality in infancy, educational performance in high school, post-secondary school attendance and college degree attainment, and earnings, public assistance use, and mortality in young adulthood for all infants born in California to low-income families whose birthweight puts them near the cutoff. We also examine whether these payments had spillover effects onto the older siblings of these infants who may have also benefited from the increase in family resources. Despite the comprehensive nature of this early life intervention, we detect no improvements in any of the study outcomes, nor do we find improvements among the older siblings of these infants. These null effects persist across several subgroups and alternative model specifications, and, for some outcomes, our estimates are precise enough to rule out published estimates of the effect of early life cash transfers in other settings.