The Importance of Schools in Driving Children’s Applications for Disability Benefits
- Applications were about 15 percent lower in counties with virtual learning relative to counties where all learning was in person.
- Applications bounced back to some extent as students returned to in-person learning.
- The effects were largest among elementary school children.
- Subgroup analyses indicate that school staff, and the identification and referral services they may offer, and informal networks both play an important role.
We explore how schools affect children’s applications to Supplemental Security Income (SSI). Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, schools varied in offering virtual or in-person learning during the 2020–21 school year. We use this variation to better understand the way schools, potentially through teacher referrals and informal networks, influence SSI applications. We find that applications were nearly 20 percent lower in counties with virtual learning relative to counties where all learning was in-person. Subgroup analysis suggests that school staff, likely through offering identification and referral services, and informal networks were mechanisms contributing to these differentials.