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The Supplemental Security Income Program

The Supplemental Security Income Program

(p.1) 1 The Supplemental Security Income Program
Economics of Means-Tested Transfer Programs in the United States, Volume II
Mark DugganMelissa S. KearneyStephanie Rennane
University of Chicago Press

The SSI program provides cash assistance to elderly, blind, and disabled residents. We summarize the SSI program’s history and present descriptive evidence on caseload composition and trends. We discuss relevant conceptual issues and empirical evidence around four key issues. First, we describe the advantages and disadvantages of categorical eligibility requirements and show that the SSI caseload is increasingly comprised of difficult-to-verify conditions, namely pain and mental disabilities. Second, we describe systematic disincentives to accumulate earnings and assets inherent in SSI program design, but more relevant questions for the SSI population are related to the full disability requirement for eligibility. Third, we describe research on long-term benefits and costs to program participants, in terms of whether the program adequately serves their needs. Fourth, we present evidence on program spillovers, across programs and across federal and state government levels. Throughout we cite areas where further study is warranted. SSI is an important part of the U.S. safety net, but particular features raise questions about potentially more effective ways to provide income support for individuals with work-limiting disabilities and families with disabled children. Our goal is to systematically present the issues for scholars and policymakers to consider and explore.

Keywords:   disability insurance, child disability, family labor supply, program evaluation, program spillovers, program participation trends, categorical eligibility

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