Porter, A., Smith, J., Payette, A., Tremblay, T., & Burt, P. (2009). SSDI '1 for 2:' Benefit Offset Pilot Demonstration Vermont Pilot Final Report. Waterbury, VT: Vermont Division of Vocational Rehabilitation.
- This study’s objective was to examine 24-month impacts for Vermont’s Benefit Offset Pilot Demonstration (BOPD), which provided a more generous work incentive for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) recipients, on recipients’ employment status and earnings.
- Participants were randomly assigned to a treatment group, which was eligible for the more generous work incentive, or a control group that was not. The authors examined impacts on employment and earnings using state unemployment insurance (UI) wage records.
- The study found that the BOPD in Vermont had statistically significant, positive impacts on treatment group members’ employment and earnings in the three quarters after random assignment. However, the effects generally did not persist over the full two-year follow-up period.
- The quality of the causal evidence presented in this report is high because it was a well-implemented randomized controlled trial. This means we are confident that the estimated effects are attributable to the BOPD, and not to other factors.
Benefit Offset Pilot Demonstration
Features of the Intervention
Administered by SSA, the BOPD was a pilot test of the later Benefit Offset National Demonstration. The primary intervention was a benefit offset that replaced the so-called cash cliff SSDI recipients who work eventually experience. The cash cliff refers to the fact that SSDI recipients who have completed a nine-month TWP followed by a three-month grace period have all their SSDI benefits suspended or terminated if they earn more than a threshold amount known as substantial gainful activity (SGA). The benefit offset replaces the complete loss of all benefits for working SSDI recipients, instead gradually withdrawing the SSDI benefit by $1 for every $2 earned above the SGA amount. SSA discontinued benefit offset eligibility for BOPD treatment subjects who had not completed a TWP by December 31, 2008, which was two years earlier than BOPD treatment subjects had initially been told their benefit offset eligibility would expire.
BOPD was implemented in four states: Connecticut, Utah, Vermont, and Wisconsin. Apart from recruiting SSDI recipients who received benefits solely based on their own earnings records, had completed a trial work period within the past 72 months, and were not concurrently receiving Supplemental Security Income benefits, the states were free to select their own program eligibility criteria. For the first 10 months of the enrollment period, Vermont restricted program eligibility to current or recent clients of the Vermont Division of Vocational Rehabilitation (DVR), the agency that administered the BOPD in Vermont. Although this restriction was lifted in the last five months of the enrollment period, most Vermont participants (96 percent) had prior involvement with the DVR. Other sources of recruitment included the Vermont Division for the Blind and Visually Impaired, the adult community mental health system, and people served through the developmental disabilities system. Of the 3,000 Vermont residents contacted to participate in the BOPD, 904 responded to the initial solicitation. Ultimately, 577 were found eligible, consented to participate, and were enrolled in the demonstration.
Features of the Study
The BOPD in Utah was evaluated using a randomized controlled trial. Utah SSDI recipients deemed eligible for the pilot were randomly assigned to either the treatment group, which received the benefit offset, or the control group, which received services as usual. Both groups remained eligible to receive benefits counseling and other standard services.
The authors analyzed data from state UI wage records. The key outcome variables were quarterly employment rates, earnings, and an indicator of earnings in excess of the SGA level. The authors estimated impacts on employment and earnings outcomes for the two research groups for eight quarters (two years) after enrollment.
- The study found statistically significant impacts on employment rates in two of the eight quarters following random assignment (follow-up quarters 1 and 3).
- The study found statistically significant impacts on average quarterly earnings in two of the eight quarters following random assignment (follow-up quarters 1 and 2).
- Treatment group members were more likely than control group members to have earnings in excess of the SGA amount in four of the eight quarters following random assignment (follow-up quarters 1, 2, 4, and 8).
Considerations for Interpreting the Findings
The volunteers who participated in the BOPD were not likely to be representative of the larger SSDI recipient population because they were typically recruited from organizations that helped clients obtain employment, and were therefore likely to be representative of the 20 percent of SSDI recipients who reported an expectation of returning to work. In addition, the decision by SSA to restrict eligibility to SSDI recipients who completed their trial work period within the past 72 months disqualified potential participants with longer work histories; these people might have benefited the most from the program.
Causal Evidence Rating
The quality of the causal evidence presented in this report is high because it was a well-implemented randomized controlled trial. This means we are confident that the estimated effects are attributable to the BOPD, and not to other factors.