Study shows direct cash payments to families had significant impact on newborn brain activity

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Money. Long-awaited research published yesterday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences have shown that direct payments to low-income families appear to significantly affect the brain development of newborns.

How the experiment worked: The researchers recruited hundreds of mothers of low-income newborns and separated them into two groups:

  • One group of mothers received $20 per month and the other $333. Do some quick calculations on the back of the napkin and you’ll find that the difference in income was $3,756 per year.
  • During the study period (which continues until the children were at least four years old), the researchers measured the infants’ brain waves by strapping them into a baby-friendly brain scan cap.

What they found a year later: Babies whose mothers received $333/month showed a greater prevalence of high-frequency brain activity than the $20/month cohort. This brain activity is often, but not always, associated with better cognitive abilities down the line.

Researchers say it’s a game-changer: “This is the first study to show that money, by itself, has a causal impact on brain development,” study co-author and neuroscientist at the University of Columbia, Dr. Kimberly G. Noble. told the NYT.

Come to a C-SPAN show near you

This study is not one to be buried in the back of a dusty academic journal — it could have an immediate effect on political debates on Capitol Hill.

It’s all about the child tax credit. Under an expanded child tax credit program, the Biden administration had sent up to $300 per child to American households. By December, the program had reduced monthly child poverty by nearly 30%according to an analysis by the Center on Poverty and Social Policy at Columbia University.

But that credit expired at the end of 2021. Biden and progressive Democrats wanted to expand the program through the Build Back Better Act, but…we all know what happened to that bill.

Zoom out: While the debates around the child tax credit have mainly focused on the incentives to parentsthis research highlights the effect of cash transfers for children, throwing a new variable into the conversation.—NC

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