Public Transfer Payment Timing and Traffic Fatalities

Monday, June 11, 2018: 6:10 PM
Starvine 1 - South Wing (Emory Conference Center Hotel)

Author(s): Angela Dills; Melanie Guldi

Discussant: Pinka Chatterji

One of every five individuals in the United States received benefits from a public transfer program in 2012. The state or federally issued benefits are paid on regularly scheduled days during the month, but the exact timing and the length of time between payments varies with state of residence as well as benefit type. Recent research has shown that individuals are sensitive to the timing of income (or benefit) receipt. On the days individuals are paid, mortality increases (Evans and Moore, 2011; Andersson et al., 2015). The mortality effects appear to be strongest for the low income population, who are more likely to be credit or income constrained (Andersson et al., 2015). In addition to mortality, criminal activity is affected by timing of income payment. Hsu (2017) shows that the incidence of domestic violence crime is greater in the days right after public assistance receipt. Furthermore, Foley (2011) and Packham and Carr (2017) provide evidence that the length of time between payments increases criminal activity and that the effect is nonlinear and increasing with time since receipt. In this paper, we focus on mortality and in particular mortality due to traffic fatalities, some of which may have a criminal component.

Traffic Deaths are viewed as a public health concern by both the Center for Disease Control and the World Health Organization. In 2015, 35,092 individuals died in traffic accidents in the United States, including 5,376 pedestrian casualties of these accidents. There are many factors that influence the rate of death including traffic congestion, speeding, alcohol consumption, and occupant and non-occupant safety choices such as car seats and helmets. Income timing may affect these factors in myriad ways.

We examine whether Temporary Assistance to Needy Family (TANF) benefits affect traffic fatalities. Our difference-in-difference estimates suggest that during the first four days following TANF benefit receipt, across the United States, pedestrian fatalities increase by 41 deaths per year, an increase of 0.8 percent and that there are 118 more deaths due to fatal crashes, an increase of 0.3 percent. When we examine the separate effects of TANF and SNAP payment timing, we find that TANF payment timing increases traffic fatalities while SNAP payment timing has the opposite effect, which is consistent with the finding of Castellari et al. (2016) for alcohol-related traffic fatalities.

Our findings contribute to the literature in two important ways. First, we show that part of the increase in mortality due to income payment timing is due to a rise in traffic fatalities due to TANF payment timing. Additionally, we show that pedestrian fatalities are an important piece of this explanation. This is not surprising since TANF recipients may be more likely to walk than non-recipients (NHTSA 2017). Second, our findings suggest that the effects are different for TANF receipt (a cash benefit) versus SNAP receipt (an in-kind benefit) providing empirical support for the argument that individuals respond differently to cash versus in-kind benefits.