Analyst in Disability Policy
William R. Morton
Analyst in Income Security
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.
Although Congress granted the SSA permanent authority to conduct SSI demonstrations in the 1980 amendments, the authority given the agency to conduct SSDI demonstrations was temporary and expired in 1985. Since 1985, Congress has passed five temporary extensions of the agency’s SSDI demonstration authority. The most recent of these extensions expired in 2005 leaving the SSA without the authority to begin any new SSDI demonstration projects. At that time, the SSA was in the process of planning and administering eight SSDI demonstration projects. Five of these demonstration projects have been completed, two were cancelled before implementation, and one is 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 these 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 five completed and one 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: October 29, 2013
Number of Pages: 14
Order Number: RL33585
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