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Saturday, July 30, 2011

Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) Demonstration Projects

Scott Szymendera
Analyst in Disability Policy

Since 1980, Congress has authorized the Social Security Administration (SSA) to conduct demonstration projects to test changes to the agency’s Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) programs. The demonstration authority granted by Congress allows the SSA, on its own, to temporarily waive program rules, including rules regarding program eligibility and benefit administration, in order to test the impact these changes would have on the return to work rate of program beneficiaries and the size of the SSDI and SSI benefit rolls.

The most recent authorization for the SSA to conduct demonstration projects expired in 2005. At that time, the SSA was in the process of planning and administering eight SSDI demonstration projects. Four of these demonstration projects have been completed, two were cancelled, and two are ongoing.

In 2004 and 2008, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) criticized the SSA for its administration of its disability demonstration projects. The GAO found that the SSA did not use the authority granted to it by Congress to test a wide enough variety of program options and did not have in place a system to identify program changes and policy options that should be tested in demonstrations. In addition, the GAO criticized the SSA for the methodological limitations of some of its demonstration projects and found that the results of these projects were not properly shared within the agency, with Congress, or with the public. Because of this, the GAO concluded that SSA demonstration projects had little impact on the overall policy debate or on the ways that Congress and the agency could work to improve the historically low return to work rate of SSDI and SSI beneficiaries and reduce the rolls of these large disability benefit programs.

This report presents a summary of the four completed and two ongoing SSDI demonstration projects.The objective of this information is to aid Congress in its ongoing discussions of the future of the SSA disability benefit programs and the decision to temporarily or permanently extend the demonstration authority of the agency.

Date of Report: July 20, 2011
Number of Pages: 26
Order Number: RL33585
Price: $29.95

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