Mathematica Researchers David Wittenburg and Gina Livermore authored a chapter on youth transition in a new book, Lessons from SSA Demonstrations for Disability Policy and Future Research, that summarizes 30 years of research on the Social Security Administration’s (SSA) tests of new policies and programs meant to improve the federal government’s two biggest disability programs, Social Security Disability Insurance and Supplemental Security Income (SSI).
This book shines a light on critical lessons learned from these demonstrations and the value of SSA’s temporary demonstration authority. It also offers new ideas and insights for researchers and policymakers as they consider the next generation of demonstrations for SSA’s disability programs.
Some of the book’s major takeaways are that tested interventions have been more successful at increasing employment than sustaining higher earnings, reducing benefit payments, or prompting disability program exits. It also highlighted the value of including measures of well-being and the needs of diverse populations. Evidence from the demonstrations also reveals that policymakers might have to reconsider current expectations about how many disability beneficiaries will return to work and what constitute successful return-to-work outcomes.
The chapter on youth transitions comprehensively reviews and critically analyzes demonstrations and other related initiatives that were intended to improve the transition and adult outcomes of youth receiving SSI. Wittenburg and Livermore summarize key lessons learned from their review and identify areas in which more evidence is needed to strengthen services and programmatic strategies. Key findings from the youth transition chapter include the following:
- Employment-focused, comprehensive service interventions for youth can be effective but, to date, have not led to lasting impacts on the outcomes of youth receiving SSI.
- The most promising interventions that generated long-term effects for other youth populations that were similar to youth receiving SSI offered new opportunities for services and development that were not readily available in the existing service environment.
- Youth receiving SSI likely will continue to experience challenges navigating a fragmented system of supports without more substantive intervention and programmatic reform support.
The authors also suggest ways for SSA’s future learning agenda to enhance outcomes for youth. These suggestions guide considerations for future demonstrations and modifications to SSA programs and services. They include the following:
Future demonstration considerations
- Adapt existing models with strong evidence for SSI youth
- Expand SSA data use among other public and private agencies
- Identify and test interventions that improve family outcomes
- Enhance understanding of diversity, equity, and inclusion
Modifications to SSA programs and services
- Tests to support changes to SSI program rules
- Test expanded benefit counseling services
- Expand testing of informational outreach
These insights are informed by the extensive work of Mathematica researchers on youth transitions, including the evaluation of Promoting the Readiness of Minors in Supplemental Security Income (PROMISE), SSA’s largest demonstration to date on supporting youth receiving SSI as they transition to adulthood. A recent article in Evaluation Review co-written by Mathematica researchers shares early impacts on youth and family outcomes. It found that the positive short-term impacts of PROMISE on youth’s use of transition services, youth’s employment, and families’ use of services are consistent with the program logic model and suggest the potential for some longer-term favorable impacts on youth and family outcomes.