Half a billion US dollars leveraged for children in Mongolia during the COVID-19 pandemic
Child Money Programme
Nearly all (96.6%) children of Mongolia are benefiting from the country’s flagship Child Money Programme (CMP), which is universal for eligible children to receive MNT 20,000 (≈USD 7) a month. In response to COVID -19, the Government of Mongolia has made an imperative decision to top-up the monthly child benefit by increasing the amount 5 times (MNT 100,000 or USD 35). This was aiming at supporting the families in dealing with the economic consequences of the pandemic and avoiding negative copying strategies such as reduced spending for food and other essentials which have a long lasting negative impact on children’s health, development and well-being.
Prior to the onset of the global pandemic, UNICEF conducted a feasibility assessment of shock-responsive social protection (SRSP) measures for children. The assessment concluded that the existing governments’ mechanism for child benefit is the most suitable system to reach the children in an effective way during shocks. The system was tested through a pilot designed to respond to a climate disaster called dzud, in the winter of 2019-2020, generating solid evidences and lessons for further replication by the Government.
Soon after, the COVID-19 pandemic has started to hit the countries, and Mongolia began taking preventive measures, which had negative impact on households’ income, consumption and overall socio-economic conditions. In addition, children began to stay home, as schools and kindergartens were closed, which had significant implications for food supply of households, especially that of the most disadvantaged.
Hence, starting from February 2020, and based on the evidence gathered from the pilot programme on SRSP, UNICEF jointly with the RC office, proactively advocated for additional cash transfer for children by topping up the CMP. Eventually in May 2020, the Government of Mongolia decided to increase the benefit size 5 times, as part of its stimulus package in response to the pandemic, till October 2020, and then extended till the end of the year.
This is how UNICEF’s pilot programme on SRSP for children eventually scaled up by the Government providing additional cash to families with children in response to the COVID-19 pandemic : a total amount of MNT 850 billion (≈ USD 300 million) was leveraged for children in 2020, reaching more than two-third of all households in the country.
UNICEF continued its policy advocacy to maintain the universality and the size of child benefit in 2021, resulting in state budget allocation of about USD 200 mln required to maintain the current top-up of the child benefit in the first half of 2021. The key advocacy messages focused on the multiplier effect of cash transfer on local economy about every dollar transferred to households adding 1.3–2.5 dollars to the total income in the local economy (Thome et al. 2016).
To continue generating solid evidences and lessons useful for the Governments’ future decision about CMP size and coverage, as well as institutionalization SRSP for children in the future, UNICEF’s support is now focusing on monitoring of the current child benefit top-up. In this, UNICEF is partnering with Asian development Bank (ADB) where the latter has conducted a simulation analysis of the impact of CMP top-up on poverty and inequality, concluding that it has the potential of reducing the current level of poverty (28.4%) to 24.7 percent.
UNICEF is complementing the ADB simulation analysis by undertaking a national level study to investigate the implementation issues, beneficiary satisfaction and use of the top-up in overcoming the socio-economic challenges faced by the households with children during the pandemic.
The study methodologies and tools are greatly informed by the findings and lessons of the pilot on SRSP for children and at the same time, UNICEF is building the local research capacity to design and undertake studies aimed at understanding shocks, impact of shocks, copying strategies and implications of government responses to shocks.
The findings of the study are expected to guide the Governments’ decision and programming about CMP beyond July 2021, to sustain the current gain of this measure on poverty and inequality as well as the families’ livelihood in the aftermath of the pandemic.
UNICEF Mongolia’s support to the Government will be extended further building on these sizeable evidenced derived both from the pilot implementation and the study in improving the legal environment and standard operating procedures for cash transfer for children in response to shocks, including the climate shocks, which are increasing due to climate change.