Policy Responses to the Pandemic for COVID-19 in Latin America and the Caribbean: The Use of Cash Transfer Programs and Social Protection Information Systems

Nov 26, 2020

The COVID-19 pandemic has made evident the unfulfilled promise of social protection in Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC). Governments in LAC have used cash transfer programs (CTPs) to cushion the social and economic effects of the pandemic. In this document we describe how these programs have served as a vehicle to reach vulnerable populations.

We show that LAC countries have used their existing social protection information systems to reach new populations, as well as to deliver cash benefits. Governments’ responses were conditioned by the programs’ current coverage and the registries’ interoperability with other sources of information. Specifically, we analyze the responses to the pandemic distinguishing the ways in which countries innovated with their programs, along with the benefits’ coverage and size.

Additionally, we study social information systems: reviewing the characteristics of both social registries and single beneficiary registries (existence, coverage, and interoperability).

We found that 64 CTPs were used in the region (in 24 out of 33 countries), 37 of which were emergency bonuses (implemented in 21 countries). However, more than half of the interventions were directed at a small proportion of the population (directly benefiting less than 10% of it) and consisted of total additional benefits lower than a minimum monthly wage. We show that most CTPs in response to the pandemic used pre-existing information, both to register and select the beneficiaries (81% of the programs) and to route the payments (73%).

Based on this analysis, we suggest three tasks for the coming years: to consolidate social protection information systems, to foster the use of this information for the design, implementation and evaluation of public interventions, and to rethink the role of CTPs as part of social protection systems.

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