Addressing the Cash Cliff in Safety Net Programs: Lessons from a National Demonstration | Episode 78

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Across many safety net programs, workers with low income and their families face the threat of a sudden and unexpected loss of benefits if their earnings increase too much, sometimes resulting in a net decrease in overall income. Policymakers have long worried that the phenomenon, often described as the cash or benefits cliff, discourages work and reinforces dependence on public assistance. Over the past decade, the Social Security Administration has launched two national demonstrations intended to mitigate this so-called cash cliff effect in the Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) program. The latest episode of On the Evidence explores the results of those demonstrations and what they mean for future efforts to address program cliffs in the SSDI program and many other safety net programs. Our guests for this episode are John Jones, David Wittenburg, and Diane Beaver. Jones is an economist at the Social Security Administration in the Office of Research, Demonstration, and Employment Support who has overseen several large-scale randomized controlled trials testing potential changes to the SSDI program, including two discussed on this episode: the Promoting Opportunity Demonstration (POD) and the Benefit Offset National Demonstration (BOND). Wittenburg is a senior fellow at Mathematica whose research on interventions to promote employment for people with disabilities includes evaluations of POD and BOND. Beaver is an advisory services analyst at Mathematica who spent more than a decade at a community nonprofit counseling people on how work and other entitlements would affect their Social Security benefits. In that role, she played a part in implementing POD and has firsthand knowledge of what beneficiaries experience as they navigate the patchwork of program rules that govern the amount of government aid people can receive for housing, food, child care, health care, and other needs as their work status changes. Find a full transcript of the episode here: mathematica.org/blogs/why-a-national-demonstration-to-mitigate-the-cash-cliff-in-one-safety-net-program-didnt-increase Read the final evaluation report on POD: https://www.ssa.gov/disabilityresearch/documents/POD_Final_Evaluation_Report.pdf Read the final evaluation report on BOND: https://www.ssa.gov/disabilityresearch/documents/BOND%20Deliv%2024e2%20FER%20Vol%201%2020181018.pdf Find a summary of lessons learned from several decades of demonstrations by the Social Security Administration to test policy ideas in the Social Security Disability Insurance and Supplemental Security Income programs: https://www.ssa.gov/disabilityresearch/demonstrations/lessons.htm Learn more about the Ultimate Demonstration referenced at the tail end of the episode: https://www.ssa.gov/disabilityresearch/documents/Simplification_Demo_TEP_Final_Report_Final%20Remediated.pdf Watch a recorded discussion between Pamela Herd and Sebastian Jilke, professors at the McCourt School of Public Policy at Georgetown University, about administrative burden in the Social Security Disability Insurance program: https://www.ssab.gov/announcements/ssab-to-host-experts-on-researching-and-evaluating-equitable-access-to-social-security-programs/

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