Government Reactions to Tragedy: How Maltreatment Deaths Impact Child Protection

(Job Market Paper)

Governments often change policy or practice following a tragedy. In theory, governments should use information from tragedies to optimally update. In practice, their reactions may not be well-calibrated and may depend on whether the tragedy is spotlighted in the media. This paper examines how child protection agencies react to maltreatment deaths and assesses the consequences for welfare. I first analyze newspaper archives to construct a dataset of publicized maltreatment deaths between 1999 and 2019. I then employ a staggered adoption event study to identify the impact of a death on child protection systems and child outcomes. Agencies react sharply to highly-publicized deaths, increasing removals by 19 percent. There is no detectable reaction to less-publicized deaths, suggesting agencies respond primarily to scrutiny rather than information. Highly-publicized deaths induce an increase in removals among children with the highest predicted risk of maltreatment and hospitalizations for maltreatment-related diagnoses among Medicaid recipients decline. But Black children’s removal rates rise more than White children’s even conditional on risk, increasing the Black-White removal rate gap. Agency reactions to tragedies therefore do not appear to be optimal, though parts of their reactions may be welfare-enhancing.

The Impact of Public Health Insurance on Child Health and Parental Labor Supply: Evidence from Arizona’s CHIP Freeze

I examine the impact of a temporary freeze in the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) on parental labor supply and children’s health outcomes. In 2010, Arizona was the only state to freeze its CHIP program. Following the freeze, families earning between 140 and 200% of the federal poverty level could no longer enroll children in public health insurance, but children already enrolled could maintain their coverage. This policy created a sharp decrease in public benefits available to families with newborns. I use triple difference and regression discontinuity designs to examine the impact on parental labor supply and child health. The freeze reduced parental earnings: the portion of families earning between 140 and 200% of the federal poverty level declined by 7 percentage points, and the portion earning between 0 and 50 increased by the same amount.

Stigma and Social Safety Net Participation

(with Kelsey Pukelis and Michael Holcomb)

Stigma may prevent participation in social safety net programs and impose utility costs on individuals already receiving benefits. We use a nationally representative to assess the prevalence of stigma and its role as a barrier to take-up in the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP) and the potential for interventions to alleviate stigma and increase take-up. The survey measures respondents’ beliefs about the observability of participation, barriers and benefits associated with participation, and attitudes towards individuals who participate in SNAP. An experimental component tests the impact of three interventions on stigmatizing beliefs and interest in SNAP participation.

Evaluating the Role of Stigma as a Barrier to Take-up of Government Programs

(with Jessica Lasky-Fink, Elizabeth Linos and Heidi Wallace)