Academic journal article Social Security Bulletin

Longitudinal Patterns of Participation in the Social Security Disability Insurance and Supplemental Security Income Programs for People with Disabilities

Academic journal article Social Security Bulletin

Longitudinal Patterns of Participation in the Social Security Disability Insurance and Supplemental Security Income Programs for People with Disabilities

Article excerpt

Longitudinal access to disability benefits is affected by interactions in benefit eligibility between the Disability Insurance (DI) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) programs and lags arising from processing time in receiving the first payment. Administrative records show that a quarter of the calendar year-2000 cohort of first-ever working-age disability awardees were involved with both programs over a 60-month period, indicating a higher degree of program interaction than apparent from cross-sectional data. Nonbeneficiary status is three times more prevalent 60 months after entry among those who entered SSI first compared with DI entrants, as a result of exits that are due to the SSI means test. Over half of new awardees qualifying for both DI and SSI benefits are eligible for SSI during 4 or 5 months of the 5-month DI waiting period, but many do not receive their first SSI payment until later because of lags in final award decisions.

Selected Abbreviations

DI Disability Insurance

SSI Supplemental Security Income

TRF Ticket Research File, version 8

Background and Research Questions

The purpose of this article is to provide a better understanding of longitudinal patterns of participation among working-age adults in the Social Security Disability Insurance (DI) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) disability programs. We follow up a cohort of new awardees to assess two longitudinal aspects of access to cash benefits. The first is the effect of DI and SSI program rules, which determine benefit eligibility (also referred to as "payment eligibility"), on longitudinal patterns of access. The second is the effect of the timing of actual payments on access. Benefit eligibility and actual payments reflect two facets of the Social Security Administration's (SSA's) disability programs. Benefit eligibility for a given month reflects legislative intent. Actual payments are also affected by program implementation, which invariably results in lags between the first month of benefit eligibility and the first month of actual payment. Both DI and SSI provide benefits for people aged 18-64 with qualifying disabilities and share identical criteria for determining disability status. The two programs focus on different, but partially overlapping populations. DI covers people with substantial earnings histories; SSI covers people with subpoverty level income and few resources. The interactions between the two programs are substantial and complex, but not fully understood. Our analysis is designed to contribute to a better understanding of how interactions of benefit eligibility rules and the timing of actual benefit payments affect the dynamics of access to disability cash benefits.

We intend to build on and contribute to previous research in three areas: (1) overall access to disability benefits in the working-age population; (2) the dynamics of benefit eligibility for SSA's two disability programs, which enhance access as a result of legislative design; and (3) delays in the start of actual benefit payments, which may create de facto temporal gaps in access.

The first area of previous research addresses disability benefit coverage, a fundamental aspect of overall access. It is well known that the vast majority of the working-age population is insured against the risk of disability through the DI program. Yet DI coverage is not universal, with the DI coverage gap being most noticeable among younger adults1 and women close to retirement age (Mitchell and Phillips 2001). But the substantial role of SSI in supplementing this DI safety net has not been well understood until recently. Rupp, Davies, and Strand (2008) found that SSI covered a substantial minority of the working-age population. More than one-third would satisfy the SSI means test in the event of a severe disability. According to that study, SSI coverage played an important role in the safety net in three complementary ways: (1) it increased the overall coverage of the working-age population, (2) the program enhanced the bundle of cash benefits available to disabled individuals, and (3) it provided a path toward Medicaid coverage. …

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