The United States Agency for International Development (USAID) completed its Unconditional Cash Transfer (UCT) program today. Launched in October 2020, it helped 85,954 vulnerable Liberians cope with the economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic through direct cash payments.
The UCT program assisted micro-entrepreneurs, market traders, smallholder farmers, the rural poor, and others disproportionately affected by the economic fallout from COVID-19.
Each participant in the program received three monthly payments of approximately US$45, amounting to a total of 2 billion Liberian dollars (approximately US$11.7 million). This included 46,844 women, making up 54.5 percent of all UCT recipients. More than 17,000 youth between 15-29 years of age also received payments. They account for almost 20 percent of all UCT beneficiaries.
Surveys show that more than half of UCT recipients said they used their money to invest in existing businesses. Another quarter of recipients said they spent their money on education for their children and other family members, while the final quarter used the money they received to buy food and other necessities.
In addition to strengthening the resilience of at-risk Liberians, the UCT program also complemented existing USAID social protection activities by contributing names and contact information to the Government of Liberia National Identification Registry. The UCT program’s exclusive use of mobile money to make payments further served to increase confidence among users of the still new but fast-growing mobile money transfer system in Liberia, thereby helping address the country’s currency liquidity issues.
USAID Mission Director Jim Wright said the UCT program was deliberately designed to put cash directly in the hands of the most vulnerable Liberians, because “they can best determine how to use the resources made available to them to meet their own needs and priorities.” He thanked King Philanthropies and other donors, who helped fund the program. He also thanked GiveDirectly, a leading global non-governmental organization (NGO) that specializes in delivering digital cash transfers, for successfully implementing the program on behalf of USAID.
GiveDirectly used the 2016 Liberia Household Income and Expenditure Surveys to help determine UCT beneficiaries. In particular, GiveDirectly focused on districts that the surveys identified as having the highest percentage of households living in absolute poverty in the six counties where USAID does most of its development work in Liberia: Bong, Grand Bassa, Lofa, Margibi, Montserrado, and Nimba. GiveDirectly also determined vulnerable Liberians eligible for UCT payments by partnering with NGOs engaged in poverty reduction work to identify individuals most affected by the economic impact of COVID-19.
The UCT program coordinated closely with the Ministry of Finance and Development Planning and the Ministry of Gender, Children and Social Protection to ensure processes developed by and lessons learned from the program are available to the Government of Liberia for use in its ongoing efforts to develop a broader social protection system and database for identifying potential beneficiaries.