January 21, 2022


SSDI and SSI interventions tested so far: more successful in producing employment growth than sustained higher earnings, lower benefits or termination of the disability program

Rockville, Maryland, Dec. 9, 2021 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) — The Social Security Administration (SSA) and Abt Associates have released a book, Lessons from SSA Demonstrations for Disability Policy and Future Research, which is a summary of more than 30 years of demonstration projects, testing new policies. The demonstrations focused on improving the largest federal disability programs, Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and Supplemental Safety Income (SSI), and helping the people who rely on them. Understanding this research is critical to developing sound, evidence-based disability policies and effective support for people with disabilities who want to work.

The volume is based on a State of the Science meeting that SSA, Abt and its partner, the Hatcher Group, hosted in the spring of 2021 to discuss key lessons learned from the SSA demonstrations. Recordings of the meeting can be found at: Abt’s website and additional information is on SSA’s website.

The main conclusions from the analysis are:

  • Policymakers need to rethink expectations about how many SSDI beneficiaries and SSI recipients will return to work and expectations for defining successful return to work outcomes.

  • In addition, it is important to determine what society is most interested in: measures for welfare or measures for program savings and program termination.

  • In general, the interventions tested so far have been more successful in producing an increase in employment than with sustained higher earnings, lower benefits, or termination of a disability program.

  • Different populations have different needs, and while targeting can be challenging, it can also be more effective.

  • To improve demonstration design and research, it is important for policy makers to engage with a diverse set of stakeholders, researchers and participants in demonstrations.

  • Evaluation designs that examine the effects of individual intervention components can enhance previous evaluations to identify the impact of specific program characteristics.

  • New data matches, qualitative data and implementation measures can go beyond the impact analyzes to explain why a demonstration had its measured effect.

“This new volume demonstrates the unique value of SSA’s temporary demonstration authority, both in identifying effects and highlighting what we don’t yet know,” said Austin Nichols, principal investigator for Abt Associates. “Popular ideas focus on changes in benefit rules, which usually have a very small impact on employment. More comprehensive and targeted services usually have a greater impact. Many of the promising avenues would require new research to refine their design if we are to develop the most effective policies.”

Contributions to the bundle are affiliated with the following institutions: Abt Associates; Bloomberg School of Public Health; California Policy Lab; math; Center for Budget and Policy Priorities; Federal Statistical Research Data Center; Goldman School of Public Policy, University of California, Berkeley; the Municipal Institute; Johns Hopkins University; Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University; Michigan United Cerebral Palsy; National Bureau of Economic Research; Office of Disability Employment Policy, US Department of Labor; Office of Policy Development and Research, U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development; Office of Research, Demonstration and Employment Support, Social Security Administration; Office of Retirement and Disability Policy, Social Security Administration; Rehabilitation Research and Training Center, Virginia Commonwealth University; University of California, Los Angeles; the data foundation; George Washington University; the University of Chicago; University of California, Berkeley; University of Maryland, Baltimore County; University of Maryland School of Medicine; University of New Hampshire; University of Wisconsin–Madison; US Government Accountability Office; WE Upjohn Institute for Labor Research; Williams College; and Work Incentive Planning and Assistance National Training and Data Center, Virginia Commonwealth University.


About Abt Associates

Abbot Associates is a global consultancy and research firm that combines data and bold thinking to improve the quality of people’s lives. We partner with clients and communities to advance equity and innovation – from creating scalable digital solutions and fighting infectious diseases, to mitigating climate change and evaluating programs for measurable social impact.

CONTACT: Mary Maguire Abt Associates [email protected]

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