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Nicolo Bird and Emine Hanedar
Social safety nets (SSNs) are focal policies that support poor and vulnerable households, most prominently through cash transfers. However, strong discrepancies persist across countries in terms of spending, coverage, and targeting of SSNs, with larger gaps often found in low-income countries. Digital technologies can prove vital in supporting a rapid expansion of SSNs around the world. Governments need to do three things for this: identify, verify, and pay. This note explains how countries can make considerable improvements across these three dimensions despite differences in capacity levels. It examines six case studies of countries―Brazil, Democratic Republic of Congo, India, Pakistan, Togo, and Türkiye―that used and adapted digital technologies in different ways due, in large part, to variations in digital SSN infrastructures in place before the onset of COVID-19. These case studies illustrate how (1) innovative digital technologies can help overcome lack of government capacity to implement SSNs, even in countries with a lack of digital infrastructure or capacity, and (2) countries with stronger digital infrastructure or investments in SSNs before COVID-19 were able to complement existing policies to reach more people and to provide stronger responses than countries without preexisting SSN frameworks.