J-PAL Southeast Asia at 10: Social Protection
Effectively Targeting Anti-Poverty Programs in Indonesia: In lower-income countries, it is often challenging to identify the beneficiaries for social assistance programs due to the lack of verifiable income records. J-PAL affiliated researchers conducted a series of evaluations to understand which method of identifying low-income households is most effective.
The first evaluation took place In 2008, where J-PAL affiliated researchers Abhijit Banerjee (MIT), Ben Olken (MIT), and Rema Hanna (Harvard) and their co-authors Vivi Alatas (Asakreativita), Julia Tobias (CDC Group), and Zachary Himmelbasch (Harvard) worked with the Indonesian Central Bureau of Statistics, the NGO Mitra Samya, and the World Bank to compare the effectiveness of proxy-means testing (PMT) and community targeting. A follow-up evaluation took place in 2010, where J-PAL affiliated researchers Abhijit Banerjee (MIT), Ben Olken (MIT), and Rema Hanna (Harvard) and co-authors Vivi Alatas (Asakreativita), Ririn Purnamasari (World Bank), and Matthew Wai-Poi (World Bank) collaborated with the Ministry of Social Affairs and the National Team for the Acceleration of Poverty Reduction and Statistics Indonesia to compare the effectiveness of automatic PMT and self-targeting.
Findings showed that while PMT was slightly better at correctly identifying low-income households, community targeting greatly improved local satisfaction and better matched the low-income individual’s own concept of poverty. Researchers also found no evidence that community targeting led to elite capture, or resources being diverted to those with more high-level connections within the community. Moreover, self-targeting is more effective at selecting eligible beneficiaries than PMT: households living in extreme poverty are more likely to apply for a social protection program, and hence receive the benefits.
Fast forward to 2021, the evidence from this evaluation was later adopted by the Ministry of Village to distribute cash transfers during Covid-19, specifically for recipients who are previously unenrolled in any social protection program.
The Impact of Social Program Targeting Strategies on Reported and Actual Asset Ownership in Indonesia: J-PAL affiliated researchers Abhijit Banerjee (MIT), Ben Olken (MIT), and Rema Hanna (Harvard) and co-author Sudarno Sumarto (SMERU Research Institute) partnered with the Government of Indonesia to conduct a randomized evaluation that tested whether adding questions on flat-screen televisions and cell phone SIM cards to a targeting census would change people’s reporting and actual purchases of those items. The evaluation indicated that while targeting may cause people to misreport what they own in the short term for some goods, it is unlikely to change people’s decisions about whether to actually purchase those items.
Evaluating the effectiveness of Indonesia’s national food assistance program: In 2012, J-PAL affiliated researchers Abhijit Banerjee (MIT), Ben Olken (MIT), and Rema Hanna (Harvard) and co-authors Jordan Kyle Cohen (International Food Policy Research Institute) and Sudarno Sumarto (SMERU Research Institute) partnered with the Ministry of National Development Planning (Bappenas) and TNP2K to evaluate the impact of distributing ID cards that inform beneficiaries of their eligibility for a national subsidized rice program, Raskin, on program delivery and leakages. The result of the evaluation informed the government’s decision to scale up the ID cards distribution to over 65 million people nationwide in 2013.
In 2017, the Government of Indonesia began to reform the in-kind food assistance program, at this point known as Rastra, into a voucher program, the Non-Cash Food Assistance (Bantuan Pangan Non-Tunai/BPNT). J-PAL affiliated researchers Abhijit Banerjee (MIT), Ben Olken (MIT), and Rema Hanna (Harvard) and co-authors Elan Satriawan (Universitas Gadjah Mada) and Sudarno Sumarto (SMERU Research Institute) collaborated with TNP2K, Bappenas, the Ministry of Social Affairs (Kemensos), and the Coordinating Ministry for Human Development and Cultural Affairs (Kemenko PMK) to compare the efficacy of vouchers versus in-kind transfers. Results of the evaluation suggest that the use of vouchers has positive impacts on poverty reduction, beneficiary targeting, household consumption decisions, the quality of rice, and the administrative costs of delivering the program.
Researchers are also currently exploring whether the criteria for additional private sector agent recruitment (those who handle the last mile of service delivery) is necessary for BPNT and which optimal ratio should be considered by the government as a standard for the national rollout of the program. In addition, J-PAL affiliated researchers are in the process of evaluating the impacts of the transition to BPNT on digital financial inclusion and digital access to other social protection programs.