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Nudges to Increase Completion of Welfare Applications: Experimental Evidence from Michigan


  • Christopher J. O'Leary

    (W.E. Upjohn Institute for Employment Research)

  • Dallas Oberlee

    (W.E. Upjohn Institute for Employment Research)

  • Gabrielle Pepin

    (W.E. Upjohn Institute for Employment Research)


The Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program provides cash assistance to very-low-income families with children. Application procedures to receive TANF benefits, however, often involve substantial transaction costs likely to reduce take-up. We estimate, through a randomized controlled trial design, the effects of a detailed telephone-call reminder to increase TANF application completion in southwest Michigan, where applicants must visit a regional public employment office at least four times to be eligible for benefits. We do not find that personalizing reminder calls increased participation in the initial appointment at the public employment office. However, conditional on attending the initial session, applicants who received reminder calls before additional appointments were more likely to complete all application requirements, compared to those who did not receive reminders. Evidence suggests that reminder calls increase attendance at public employment office appointments but that personalizing such calls has limited impact.

Suggested Citation

  • Christopher J. O'Leary & Dallas Oberlee & Gabrielle Pepin, 2020. "Nudges to Increase Completion of Welfare Applications: Experimental Evidence from Michigan," Upjohn Working Papers 20-336, W.E. Upjohn Institute for Employment Research.
  • Handle: RePEc:upj:weupjo:20-336

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Richard H. Thaler & Shlomo Benartzi, 2004. "Save More Tomorrow (TM): Using Behavioral Economics to Increase Employee Saving," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 112(S1), pages 164-187, February.
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    5. Benjamin M. Marx & Lesley J. Turner, 2019. "Student Loan Nudges: Experimental Evidence on Borrowing and Educational Attainment," American Economic Journal: Economic Policy, American Economic Association, vol. 11(2), pages 108-141, May.
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    8. C. Yiwei Zhang & Jeffrey Hemmeter & Judd B. Kessler & Robert D. Metcalfe & Robert Weathers, 2020. "Nudging Timely Wage Reporting: Field Experimental Evidence from the United States Social Supplementary Income Program," NBER Working Papers 27875, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
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    More about this item


    Temporary Assistance for Needy Families; nudge; welfare-to-work; randomized controlled trial; application costs;
    All these keywords.

    JEL classification:

    • D90 - Microeconomics - - Micro-Based Behavioral Economics - - - General
    • I38 - Health, Education, and Welfare - - Welfare, Well-Being, and Poverty - - - Government Programs; Provision and Effects of Welfare Programs
    • H75 - Public Economics - - State and Local Government; Intergovernmental Relations - - - State and Local Government: Health, Education, and Welfare
    • H83 - Public Economics - - Miscellaneous Issues - - - Public Administration

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