Together with the Social Security Administration, Mathematica released results on the five-year impacts of the largest cross-agency initiative aimed at helping youth with disabilities achieve economic security as they transition to adulthood. The Promoting the Readiness of Minors in Supplemental Security Income (PROMISE) demonstration sought to improve youth with disabilities’ transitions from school to postsecondary education and employment by encouraging new ways of supporting them well before they turn 18, engaging their families, requiring best practices such as paid work experiences, and developing partnerships across agencies serving youth receiving Supplemental Security Income. Although some outcomes fell short of expectations, the demonstration provided valuable lessons for transition programs.
Mathematica evaluated PROMISE and measured its impacts at 18 months and five years after participants enrolled in the program. Six grantees across the country ran programs serving more than 13,000 youth and their family members. All programs increased employment and earnings during the first 18 months after enrollment, but longer-term impacts were more mixed. Only two programs had persistent impacts on youth’s employment rates, three programs increased youth’s total income over the five-year period, and none of the programs had significant impacts on earnings or other outcomes such as continued education.
The authors suggested some explanations for the minimal impacts at five years, including the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. The programs were on track to have larger impacts on youth’s labor market outcomes before the pandemic occurred, but more than half of enrollees had their five-year follow-up during the pandemic’s stay-at-home orders and economic downturn, when youth with and without disabilities were experiencing worse labor market conditions.
PROMISE provided new information for the field and some important lessons. Among the initiative’s required services, those promoting employment were the most important, and paid-work experience, specifically, was critical to increasing youth’s employment, earnings, and income five years after enrollment. The researchers also noted that the two programs that increased youth employment at five years used staff with significant experience providing employment services. New York State PROMISE used experienced specialists to train and support the program’s employment service providers, and Wisconsin PROMISE hired vocational rehabilitation counselors. The evaluation also found that family service use, a novel component of PROMISE, was associated with youth service use, but family service use had minimal impacts on parents’ outcomes.
This work reveals that large investments in youth with disabilities might take many years to offset costs. At five years post enrollment, participants were only age 19 to 21 and still had decades of potential employment ahead of them. Learn more about the research findings and lessons from PROMISE here, and check out a recording of a recent webinar in which the five-year impacts and lessons are discussed.
Christal Stone Valenzano