Does the Drop in Child SSI Applications and Awards During COVID Vary by Locality?
- The restriction of in-person services at all Social Security Administration (SSA) field offices in March 2020 played an important role in changes in SSI applications; counties with their own field offices, where the change in service availability is largest, experienced larger declines.
- The pandemic’s myriad disruptions to social and service networks through which people may learn about SSI also contributed to declining applications, as declines were largest in counties with more children that participated in SSI before the pandemic and in counties where more people had a self-identified disability.
- New macroeconomic stabilization policies such as economic impact payments and supplemental unemployment insurance payments also appear to have led to fewer child SSI applications. Counties with larger employment reductions early in the pandemic, which likely benefited most from these stabilization policies, subsequently also had fewer SSI applications.
Child applications and awards for Supplemental Security Income (SSI) fell sharply at the outset of the COVID-19 pandemic. Cumulative applications from April to September 2020 were about 30% lower than applications over the same period in 2019 with substantial variation in rates of decline across local areas. In this paper, we explore the factors correlated with the change in applications and awards across localities at the beginning of the pandemic. Our findings point to three particularly important factors influencing the magnitude of the change in applications and awards: (1) the restriction of in-person services in all Social Security Administration field offices in March 2020, (2) the pandemic’s disruptions to social and service networks through which people may learn about SSI, and (3) new macroeconomic stabilization policies, such as economic impact payments and supplemental unemployment insurance payments. These results highlight the substantial local variation in SSI participation. This variation is especially important in considering general issues around access to SSI, particularly for policies that aim to improve SSI access through outreach. Our findings underscore the importance of local networks in creating program awareness at local levels, and that they might be fruitful avenues for further outreach efforts.