Absence of conflict of interest: This study was conducted by staff from Mathematica Policy Research, which administers CLEAR. Therefore, the review of this study was conducted by an independent consultant trained in applying the CLEAR causal evidence guidelines.
Stapleton, D., Mamun, A., & Page, J. (2013). Initial impacts of the Ticket to Work program for young new Social Security disability awardees: Estimates based on randomly assigned mail months. Princeton, NJ: Mathematica Policy Research, Center for Studying Disability Policy.
- This study examined impacts of the Ticket to Work (TTW) program, a work incentive program for Social Security disability recipients, on achieving Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) return-to-work earnings benchmarks and SSDI benefit suspension or termination for work.
- The study sample included SSDI recipients who entered the rolls from July 1999 to October 2003, were ages 18 to 39, and were not concurrently receiving Supplemental Security Income (SSI). The authors used data from the Ticket Research File (TRF), a Social Security administrative data file, for the analysis.
- The study found that TTW did not have a statistically significant impact on SSDI return to work earnings benchmarks or the number of SSDI recipients who had their benefits suspended or terminated due to work.
- The quality of the causal evidence presented in this report is moderate, the highest possible rating for a nonexperimental study. This means we are somewhat confident that the estimated effects are attributable to TTW, but other factors might have contributed.
Ticket to Work
Features of the Intervention
The TTW program aimed to improve employment outcomes for people with disabilities by providing SSI and SSDI recipients with an enhanced menu of employment services. Recipients older than 18 received a ticket by mail entitling them to free employment services through local employment networks (ENs) or state vocational rehabilitation agencies (SVRAs), organizations that offer job search assistance, career counseling, and other employment services. Using the ticket was voluntary. To encourage service receipt and, ultimately, gainful employment, SSA offered ENs and SVRAs reimbursement incentives tied to the progress their ticket holders made toward employment.
The TTW program operated within a larger set of SSDI and SSI return-to-work incentives and earnings benchmarks. SSDI recipients may engage in a trial work period (TWP), which allows them to test their ability to work for up to 9 months over a nonconsecutive, rolling 60-month period without penalty. In 2014, a month counts toward a TWP if the recipient’s earnings that month exceed $770. After a TWP and the 3-month grace period that immediately follows it are completed, the recipient enters a 36-month continuous extended period of eligibility. If a recipient’s monthly earnings exceed the substantial gainful activity (SGA) amount during that period, SSDI benefits are suspended that month, though the benefits can be reinstated in the subsequent month if the subsequent month’s earnings are below the SGA amount. Earning above the SGA amount after the extended period of eligibility results in SSDI benefit termination.
Features of the Study
Although all SSDI and SSI recipients are eligible for the TTW program, the study sample was confined to a subpopulation of SSDI recipients considered relatively more likely to work than most SSDI recipients—those ages 18 to 39 who entered the rolls from July 1999 to October 2003 and were not concurrently receiving SSI benefits.
The outcomes for this analysis were measured using the 2007 release of the TRF, which contains historical information on more than 22 million Social Security disability benefit recipients. For more than 77,000 recipients, the authors used the TRF to measure TWP initiation, TWP completion, having SSDI benefits suspended or terminated for work in any of the 48 follow-up months, and number of months in nonpayment status after having SSDI benefits suspended or terminated for work. The analysis period spanned 1999 through 2007.
The authors exploited the random variation in the ticket mailing date to estimate program impacts. SSA mailed tickets to SSDI recipients based on the last digit of the recipients’ Social Security number—essentially creating random variation in the mailing date. This random variation enabled the authors to examine whether having a later ticket mailing date led to statistically significantly different outcomes during fixed time intervals. The authors also estimated models using the predicted—rather than actual—month of the mailing because not all tickets were mailed according to schedule. The regressions controlled for differences in the sample members’ demographic, background, and disability-related characteristics.
- The study found that 48 months after being mailed a ticket, the TTW program did not increase employment and earnings enough to increase the number of those who initiated or completed a TWP or increase the number of SSDI recipients who had their benefits suspended or terminated due to work.
Considerations for Interpreting the Findings
A critical assumption of the evaluation design is that the random variation in exposure to treatment, in this case the month the notification letter was mailed, is the only systematic change that could be responsible for differences in behavior. The authors conducted a number of sensitivity checks to conclude this assumption was valid. In addition, they included control variables to adjust for differences in the groups of sample members defined by the months in which the ticket was mailed.
Causal Evidence Rating
The quality of the causal evidence presented in this report is moderate, the highest possible rating for a nonexperimental study. This means we are somewhat confident that the estimated effects are attributable to TTW, but other factors might have contributed.