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PHL’s social assistance cap cuts school, health investments for some children

Kids play within the Baseco area in Tondo, Manila, Jan. 22, 2021. — PHILIPPINE STAR/ MICHAEL VARCAS

A SUBSIDY CAP monitoring three children per household for the Philippine government’s conditional cash transfer program has resulted in reduced household resources for the unsubsidized children who receive less schooling and health investment, an Asian Development Bank (ADB) report said.

The government’s Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program (4Ps) provides cash grants for up to three children per household if they stay in school and submit to health examinations.

But an ADB report “Intrahousehold Responses to Imbalanced Human Capital Subsidies” showed that the children not monitored by the program have received less investment from households that shift their resources towards the monitored children.

“While subsidized children are caused to have increased household investment, in terms of greater aspirations, grit, health, education, and reduced child labor, unsubsidized children have reduced aspirations, lower heath investment, poorer nutrition, reduced schooling, and reduced learning as a result of the program,” the ADB said.

The report, which was released in December, was authored by ADB Economic Research and Regional Cooperation Department economist David Raitzer and ADB consultants Odbayar Batmunkh and Damaris Yarcia.

“Across a range of indicators, household resources are being withdrawn from unsubsidized children and redirected toward those who are subsidized,” the ADB said.

Under the 4Ps, parents or guardians are required to attend family development sessions. Depending on their age, children must receive preventive health checkups and vaccines, attend school, and avail of regular deworming pills.

The ADB said the 4Ps only monitored beneficiary children for educational compliance and few children for health compliance.

The beneficiary families, which have few resources, tend to maximize those resources by channeling them towards the monitored children.

“Such behavior is likely to maximize total expected income, it also means that disparities are exacerbated within families,” the ADB said.

In response, the ADB said all eligible children must be registered for educational monitoring even within the existing three-children cap.

“The 4Ps program is designed to promote investment in human capital, and those investments in terms of health are already intended to span all children. However, this is hampered by limited outreach to ensure that new pregnancies and births are registered and that health conditionalities are enforced. Were health monitoring conducted of all children, the health effects of underinvestment in certain children would be more apparent to healthcare providers,” it said.

The social assistance program could also focus on children at greater risk of dropping out of school, the ADB said.

The Philippine government’s 2022 national budget set aside P107.67 billion for the 4Ps.

The World Bank in 2020 approved a $600-million loan for the conditional cash transfer program, while the ADB has granted loans worth $500 million.

The program has over four million beneficiaries. — Jenina P. Ibañez

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