Panel Paper: Program Interactions between Special Education and Supplemental Security Income for Children

Friday, November 9, 2018
8224 - Lobby Level (Marriott Wardman Park)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

Cassandra Benson, Cornell University

Between 1989 and 2013 the number of children receiving Supplemental Security Income (SSI) increased from 0.26 million to 1.3 million. Growth in the SSI caseload was primarily driven by increases in children with mental impairments including ADHD, learning disabilities, and speech impairments. These types of impairments are often documented with the child's local school district. I implement a two sample fuzzy regression discontinuity design to test for spillovers between special education and SSI. Using National Health Interview Survey respondents linked to Social Security Administration records, I document that the children born just before the kindergarten entry eligibility cutoff date are 0.78 percentage points more likely to apply for and 0.55 percentage points more likely to receive an award for SSI between the ages of 5 and 12 relative to children born just after the school cutoff date. This increase in awards is entirely driven by awards for mental impairments. I find no increase in awards among groups unlikely to be affected by the relationship between school-starting-age and special education; these include children with physical impairments or those too young for school enrollment. Two sample fuzzy RD estimates indicate that receipt of special education induces at 23 percent increase in the likelihood a child applies for SSI and a 16 percent increase in the likelihood a child is awarded SSI. I interpret the existence of this special education channel to SSI as an overlooked benefit of special education. Thus, previous cost-benefit analyses of special education have ignored this important benefit provided to low-income families eligible for SSI.

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