What Have We Learned About SSI Receipt Among Children?

DRC Brief Number: 2018-06
Publisher: Washington, DC: Mathematica Policy Research
Dec 31, 2018
Authors
Purvi Sevak and Steven Bruns

Key Findings:

  • Child SSI caseloads more than quadrupled between 1990 and 2018. Although growth in the 1990s was likely due to changes in SSI eligibility, a substantial portion of the growth since 2000 is related to non-policy factors including poverty rates, health conditions, and special education enrollment.
  • Levels and growth in SSI receipt vary dramatically across states and local areas. Much of the difference is associated with state- and county-level health, demographic, and socioeconomic factors.  However, some of the reasons underlying growth rates vary across regions.
  • Child SSI recipients are at high risk for poor adult outcomes including relatively low employment rates and earning levels.
  • SSI cessation rates following the age-18 redetermination vary widely across states, as do employment rates among those who continue to receive SSI benefits at age 24.
The Supplemental Security Income (SSI) program is an important, means-tested source of income for the families of children with disabilities. Although some research has shown that SSI improves outcomes for these families, policymakers have been concerned about the program’s growth and the poor outcomes that many former child SSI recipients experience in adulthood. In this brief, we summarize research funded by SSA’s Disability Resource Consortium (DRC) on the program’s recent growth and the factors related to receipt of SSI by children. This research reveals dramatic variation in the rate of child SSI receipt at the state and county level, which is partly due to geographic differences in both the population and the economic circumstances that influence program eligibility. Changes in these two factors can explain a substantial share of the growth in caseloads since 2000. When children who receive SSI become adults, their employment rates and SSI receipt rates also vary from one state to another. The findings from these studies suggest that the SSI program is generally, if imperfectly, successful in delivering cash support to children with disabilities living in low-income households in a uniform manner. However, this cash support is not sufficient to lead to uniform outcomes throughout the country. Outcomes for such children with significant disabilities in low-income families depend on where they live, not just their disability or their family’s financial circumstances. Lessons about how policies and programs have contributed to substantially better outcomes for SSI children in some areas can help policymakers and program administrators improve outcomes in areas where outcomes are poor.