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Transfer Program Complexity and the Take Up of Social Benefits

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  • Henrik Jacobsen Kleven
  • Wojciech Kopczuk

Abstract

This paper models complexity in social programs as a byproduct of efforts to screen between deserving and undeserving applicants. While a more rigorous screening technology may have desirable effects on targeting efficiency, the associated complexity introduces transaction costs into the application process and may induce incomplete take up. The paper integrates the study of take up with the study of classification errors of type I and type II, and argue that incomplete take up can be seen as a form of type I error. We consider a government interested in ensuring a minimum income level for as many deserving individuals as possible, and characterize optimal programs when policy makers can choose the rigor of screening (and associated complexity) along with a benefit level and an eligibility criterion. It is shown that optimal program parameters reflect a trade-off at the margin between type I errors (including non-takeup) and type II errors. Optimal programs that are not universal always feature a high degree of complexity. Although it is generally possible to eliminate take up by the undeserving (type II errors), policies usually involve eligibility criteria that make them eligible and rely on complexity to restrict their participation. Even though the government is interested only in ensuring a minimum benefit level, the optimal policy may feature benefits that are higher than this target minimum. This is because benefits generically screen better than either eligibility criteria or complexity. We present numerical simulations on comparative statics with respect to budget size, ability distribution, complexity costs, and stigma. Our results are discussed in light of empirical findings for public programs in the United States.

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Bibliographic Info

Paper provided by National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc in its series NBER Working Papers with number 14301.

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Date of creation: Sep 2008
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Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:14301

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Cited by:
  1. Liu, Hong & Sun, Qi & Zhao, Zhong, 2013. "Social Learning and Health Insurance Enrollment: Evidence from China's New Cooperative Medical Scheme," IZA Discussion Papers 7251, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
  2. Olivier Bargain & Herwig Immervoll & Heikki Viitamäki, 2009. "No Claim, No Pain - Measuring the Non-Take-up of Social Assistance using Register Data," Working Papers 200931, School Of Economics, University College Dublin.
  3. Abeler, Johannes & Jäger, Simon, 2013. "Complex Tax Incentives: An Experimental Investigation," IZA Discussion Papers 7373, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
  4. Tomer Blumkin & Yoram Margalioth & Efraim Sadka, 2008. "The Role of Stigma in the Design of Welfare Programs," CESifo Working Paper Series 2305, CESifo Group Munich.
  5. Christian Gillitzer & Peer Ebbesen Skov, 2013. "Evidence on Unclaimed Charitable Contributions from the Introduction of Third-Party Information Reporting in Denmark," EPRU Working Paper Series 2013-04, Economic Policy Research Unit (EPRU), University of Copenhagen. Department of Economics.
  6. Laurence jacquet, 2013. "Tagging and Redistributive Taxation with Imperfect Disability Monitoring," THEMA Working Papers 2013-01, THEMA (THéorie Economique, Modélisation et Applications), Université de Cergy-Pontoise.
  7. Tomer Blumkin & Efraim Sadka & Yoram Margalioth, 2008. "The Role of Stigma in the Design of Welfare Programs," Working Papers 0806, Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, Department of Economics.
  8. Laurence Jacquet, 2010. "Take it or Leave it: Take-up, Optimal Transfer Programs, and Monitoring," CESifo Working Paper Series 3018, CESifo Group Munich.

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