Academic journal article Social Security Bulletin

Long-Term Work Activity and Use of Eemployment Supports among New Supplemental Security Income Recipients

Academic journal article Social Security Bulletin

Long-Term Work Activity and Use of Eemployment Supports among New Supplemental Security Income Recipients

Article excerpt


The Social Security Administration (SSA) oversees two programs that together provide income support to nearly 13 million working-age people with disabilities-Social Security Disability Insurance (DI) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) (SSA 2014b). To qualify for either DI or SSI, an applicant must demonstrate inability to work at substantial levels because of a long-term, medically determinable impairment. The Ticket to Work and Work Incentives Improvement Act of 1999 (Ticket Act) sought to encourage and facilitate the work-seeking efforts of disability program participants and reduce their reliance on benefits. Ticket Act initiatives were implemented gradually and they changed the disability programs in several ways. First, they provided beneficiaries with information about how work affects their benefits. Second, they offered beneficiaries more options for obtaining SSAfinanced employment services. Third, they allowed beneficiaries to return more easily to the disability rolls after unsuccessful work attempts. Fourth, they facilitated the processing of earnings information by SSA staff. Fifth, they established the Medicaid Buy-in program, which allows states to expand access to Medicaid for workers with disabilities who meet the SSI and DI medical eligibility criteria but do not receive cash benefits from either program because of their earnings.

Assessing the work efforts of SSI recipients and DI beneficiaries-and the effectiveness of work incentives such as the Ticket Act's signature initiative, the Ticket to Work (TTW)-poses a challenge because the most widely available and commonly used statistics on participant work efforts provide only cross-sectional monthly or annual perspectives. For instance, according to SSA (2008), 2.2 percent of working-age SSI recipients had their payments suspended for work under the Section 1619(b) work incentive (described later) in December 2007. Such cross-sectional statistics may be confused with cumulative statistics; for example, some observers might believe that only 2.2 percent of SSI entrants will ever forgo cash payments for work ( at least temporarily), although the percentage of participants who actually do so is several times higher. Such misinterpretation could have a substantial bearing on policy or other decisions.

In this study, we use administrative data to examine, from a long-term cumulative perspective, the extent to which SSI recipients work and eventually stop receiving SSI payments because of work. We follow award-year cohorts of working-age SSI recipients (that is, new SSI recipients aged 18-64) for up to 11 years after they enter the rolls, and we produce cumulative statistics on their employment experience and use of work incentives. Because many recipients are on the rolls for many years, long-term cumulative data on their outcomes provide a more complete picture of their work-seeking efforts and how those efforts may be impacted by changes in policy and the economy. By following recipients for several years after award, we are able to (1) record the extensive longitudinal interaction between SSI and DI participation, (2) provide information on the length of time between SSI award and the achievement of important milestones, and (3) examine the extent to which awardees forgo cash payments because of work for at least part of the study period.

We follow annual SSI award cohorts from 1996 through 2006, and track all cohorts through 2007. Because the period we analyze spans years before and after passage of the Ticket Act, it reflects the experiences of recipients under both the pre- TTW rules and the initiative's original rules. More recent TTW regulations, implemented in July 2008, are not reflected in this analysis; however, our results will serve as a useful baseline for future analyses of their effects. 1

Much of the analysis focuses on the 2001 cohort because useful changes in the administrative data were first implemented in that year. …

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