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Papers on Disability Policy

Raising the Alarm on the Unintended Consequences of Social Security’s Return to Work Policies by Jack Smalligan and Chantel Boyens, March 2023

Summary: In this paper, Smalligan and Boyens examine work-related overpayments in SSDI and SSI programs among beneficiaries who work with a focus on the root causes of overpayments. The authors begin with background on the role of work in both programs, the rules governing earnings, and the assessment of overpayments. They examine the frequency and causes of overpayments and the effectiveness of SSA’s current processes, and their impact on beneficiaries. They conclude with options for reform, including lessons from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (formerly known as food stamps), which has considerable overlap with the SSI population.

Rethinking the Promoting Opportunity Demonstration Project by Michael Wiseman, May 2015

Summary: The Bipartisan Budget Act of 2015 extended the Social Security Administration’s authority to conduct demonstration projects and mandated implementation of the Promoting Opportunity Demonstration Project to encourage work for those receiving Social Security disability benefits. SSAB commissioned Michael Wiseman*, Research Professor of Public Policy, Public Administration, and Economics at The George Washington University to write a report to the Board evaluating the design of the new demonstration project. The report reflects the views solely of Prof. Wiseman. His report draws attention to several weaknesses in the project’s design: (1) the new offset rules create work disincentives and inequities, (2) the mandated demonstration unnecessarily replicates features of other demonstrations currently in progress, and (3) certain mandated elements of the demonstration will make it impossible to draw inferences from the demonstration on how plausible policies would affect behavior nationwide. Because of these weaknesses, Prof. Wiseman recommends delay or redesign of the demonstration.

Introducing Nonadversarial Government Representatives to Improve the record for Decision in Social Security Disability Adjudications by Frank Bloch, Paul Verkuil and Jeff Lubbers, May 2003

Summary: For this report, the SSAB asked Strategem to consider two issues that arise from the Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) stage in the proceeding: (1) whether (and when) to close the upon which the decision concerning eligibility is based; and (2) whether (and how) the government should be represented in the SSA decision process—in particular, whether a government representative should appear before the ALJ. This report explains and answers those questions and provides extensive background explaining their significance.

Alternative Approaches to Judicial Review of Social Security Disability Cases by Paul Verkuil and Jeff Lubbers, May 2002

Summary: The report by Professors Verkuil and Lubbers was written under contract with the Board. It analyzes the advantages and disadvantages of two major proposals for change that have been made over the years: to create a new Article I Social Security Court with Article III review limited to legal and constitutional issues, or, to maintain the current district court review structure but centralize court of appeals review in a special Article III court (a Social Security Court of Appeals). The authors conclude that, on balance, an Article I review structure would produce real improvements in the system of administrative justice.


Papers on Representative Payees

Selection Processes for Social Security Administration Representative Payees of Adults, by Pamela Teaster, Erica Wood, and Laura Sands, September 2020

Summary: This independent research study focusing on the Social Security Administration’s processes to select representative payees for adults. The goal of the study was to describe current methods and policies and to identify aspects of administrative structures, policies, guidelines, resources, and training that support or deter the selection of efficient and effective representative payees. The study team gathered data using a two-phase process of in-depth, in-person interviews, and a national survey of field office managers. Data revealed challenges and implementable solutions for determining capability, increasing quality, handling a growing workload, designating guardians as payees, and selecting a range of organizational payees. Study findings revealed inconsistencies in the practice of determining capability and selecting payees. The report’s 35 recommendations address many aspects of payee appointment and selection in the current SSA program, including specific changes in policy, guidance, administration, communications, forms, technology, training, and research.


Papers on Social Security Financial Projections

Overview and Discussion of the Social Security Mortality Projections by John Wilmoth, May 2005

Summary: An expert group (2003 Technical Panel) reviewed official projections of the long-term financial status of the U.S. Social Security system and recommended changes in both the methods and the assumptions used. This paper reviews the mortality component of these projections and discusses the Panel’s recommendations, which include an increase in assumed rates of future mortality decline and a simplification of the methodology (projecting all forms of mortality together, rather than separately by cause of death). The general methodological issues discussed here may be relevant in many situations, whenever mortality forecasts are obtained through the extrapolation of past trends.

Estimating the Real Rate of Return on Stocks Over the Long Term, papers by John Campbell, Peter Diamond and John Shoven, August 2001

Summary:  This document includes papers by three distinguished economists that examine the key assumptions of proposals that would change the current Social Security system to include some form of investment of funds in private equities: the rate of return that can be expected on such investments. There is a question as to whether the historical rate for the last century should be used to make long-term projections over the coming decades or whether an alternative rate or range of rates is more appropriate. The included papers examine this important question, including the issue of how to reflect the higher risk inherent in stock investment relative to investment in U.S. Treasury securities. The papers are by John Campbell, Otto Eckstein Professor of Applied Economics at Harvard University; Peter Diamond, Institute Professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology; and John Shoven, Charles Schwab Professor of Economics at Stanford University. The Board is publishing them in order to make them available to policy makers and members of the public who are interested in the issue of how to ensure the long-term solvency of the Social Security system.