Kornfeld R.., Wood M. L., Orr L. L., & Long D. A. (1999). Impacts of the Project NetWork Demonstration: Final Report. Cambridge, MA: Abt Associates, Inc.
- This study’s objective was to report impacts for Project NetWork. Created by the Social Security Administration (SSA), Project NetWork tested specific approaches to improving employment among Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) recipients and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) applicants and recipients, with a particular focus on case and referral management systems.
- The study used multiple data sources, including the Master Earnings File (MEF), Master Beneficiary Record (MBR), Supplemental Security Record (SSR), and survey data collected 25 to 36 months after enrollment.
- The study found that Project NetWork increased earnings one and two years after enrollment, but these effects did not persist in the third follow-up year. The program led to a slight increase in the average number of months employed, but no changes in participants’ Social Security disability benefit receipt, health, or well-being.
- The quality of causal evidence presented in this study is considered high for the annual earnings, proportion of months receiving SSI/SSDI benefits, and average monthly SSI/SSDI benefits outcomes measured through administrative data because they are based on a well-implemented randomized controlled trial with low attrition. However, the quality of causal evidence is moderate for annual earnings, hours and months worked, and mental and physical health outcomes due to high attrition for these domains.
Features of the Intervention
Project NetWork was created by SSA in 1991 to test specific approaches to improving employment among Social Security disability benefit recipients, with a particular focus on case and referral management systems. The goal was to help Social Security disability benefit recipients achieve improvements in health status, functional ability, and motivation to work, which in turn would have positive impacts on employment outcomes. Four case and referral management delivery systems were tested, all of which included counseling, follow-up, and support services but differed in terms of whether SSA, vocational rehabilitation, or private disability organization staff implemented the services. This study examined the program from 1993 to 1996.
SSDI recipients and SSI applicants and recipients in eight demonstration sites were eligible to receive Project NetWork services, regardless of age, type of disabilities, and other factors, as long as they had not previously participated in a return-to-work program. In total, 8,248 participants who volunteered to receive Project NetWork services were randomly assigned to a treatment group receiving case management services or to a control group. To increase the incentive to work, participants in both treatment and control groups were also given waivers of certain SSI and SSDI program rules. Specifically, SSDI recipients had 12 months of earnings exempted from the calculation of the trial work period (TWP), while those who had already completed their TWP did not have their benefits suspended for earning above the substantial gainful activity amount. SSI recipients who earned more than $500 a month were exempt from a medical continuing disability review for 12 months.
Features of the Study
The study used two key data sources—administrative data and interviews. It used three SSA administrative data files to measure impacts: (1) the MEF, which included annual earnings information; (2) the MBR, which provided SSDI participation information; and (3) the SSR, which provided SSI participation information. The study also used in-person interviews with participants in the treatment and control groups, conducted at baseline and 25 to 36 months after random assignment, to measure program impacts on outcomes such as health and the numbers of hours worked.
Project NetWork used a randomized evaluation design to identify program effects. Impacts estimated with survey data were regression-adjusted to control for differences in baseline characteristics between the treatment and control groups. However, program impacts obtained using administrative data were not regression-adjusted.
- Dallas, Texas
- Fort Worth, Texas
- Phoenix, Arizona
- Las Vegas, Nevada
- Minneapolis, Minnesota
- New Hampshire
- Richmond, Virginia
- Tampa, Florida
- Spokane, Washington
Project NetWork increased earnings in the treatment group by $215 and $224 in the first and second follow-up years, respectively, according to administrative data. There was no impact on earnings in the third year, suggesting that the effect of the program was not sustained.
There was no impact on the number of hours worked among Project NetWork participants, as recorded in administrative data. However, the program did lead to a significant 0.51-month increase in the average number of months worked during the first two years after random assignment.
Project NetWork did not have a statistically significant impact on the frequency or dollar amount of Social Security disability benefits received or on the health and well-being of program participants.
Considerations for Interpreting the Findings
In a supplement to this report, the authors indicate that Project NetWork participants were more work-ready than the general population of adults with disabilities, meaning that the impact findings cannot be generalized.1
Causal Evidence Rating
The quality of causal evidence presented in this study is high for the annual earnings, proportion of months receiving SSI/SSDI benefits, and average monthly SSI/SSDI benefits outcomes measured through administrative data because they are based on a well-implemented randomized controlled trial with low attrition. This means that we are confident that the estimated effects are attributable to Project NetWork and not to other factors. However, the quality of causal evidence is moderate for the annual earnings, hours and months worked, and mental and physical health outcomes from follow-up survey data because sample attrition for these outcomes was high, though differences in baseline characteristics were controlled for. This means we are somewhat confident that estimated effects on these outcomes are attributable to Project NetWork, although other factors may also have contributed.