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#2022APPAM Blog: Super Session - Lessons Learned from SSA Demonstrations in Disability Policy

Eleanor Fisk
University of Connecticut

The Social Security Administration (SSA) administers Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI). SSA worked on demonstrations to increase employment and earnings among individuals receiving DI and/or SSI. Evaluations of these demonstrations were conducted. First in this Super Session, Burt Barnow discussed the design of these evaluations. The evaluations were carefully designed and were mostly RCTs. The participants in these evaluations were selected from states/sites and likely don’t represent the entire country or conditions outside of the one the demonstration was targeting.

Robert Moffitt discussed the effect of the SSA demonstrations on return to work, finding null or small impacts on earnings, and that financial incentives particularly don’t work well. There was low take-up for the demonstrations. Recommendations include having a qualitative component in evaluations, increasing the EITC and targeting people who may respond.

Next, David Wittenburg spoke about the future of SSA demonstrations for youth, given findings that demonstrations had short-term benefits for this population (particularly on earnings), though more is needed for long-term impacts. Evaluation did not change program rules but did change services and approaches. Recommendations for building upon evaluations and data sharing.

Lastly, Manasi Deshpande moved away from official SSA demonstrations, and reviewed a paper on the anticipatory effects of the social safety net, specifically the re-evaluation of SSI benefits at age 18. Parents of teens tend to underestimate the likelihood that their child will lose SSI benefits at age 18, so this RCT provided parents with accurate information about this. Parents who received the information were more likely to have accurate beliefs at the end of the study, but there were no differences in resource take-up or effects for subgroups.

Discussion centered around how individuals receiving SSDI/SSI may not return to work, the importance of understanding mechanisms through which demonstrations improve employment and earnings, and the equity of these programs.

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