Panel Paper: Effects of Enhanced Counseling

Saturday, November 10, 2018
8228 - Lobby Level (Marriott Wardman Park)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

Judy Geyer1, David Stapleton2, Stephen Bell3, Daniel Gubits1, Denise Hoffman2 and Michelle Wood1, (1)Abt Associates, Inc., (2)Mathematica Policy Research, (3)Westat

BOND tests whether reducing the implicit tax rate on earnings for SSDI recipients (through a benefit offset) will lead to increased earnings and reductions in SSDI benefits. In addition to studying the effect of the benefit offset rules on recruited and informed volunteers, Stage 2 of the BOND study estimates the effects of the intensive enhanced work incentives counseling. Stage 2 volunteers assigned to the “offset+WIC” treatment group were eligible to receive basic work incentives counseling (WIC) which is designed to mirror typical SSDI counseling (Work Incentives, Planning, and Assistance, i.e. WIPA) in the type and intensity of service. The only intended difference, relative to WIPA, is that WIC counselors assist beneficiaries in making informed decisions about the potential effects of work on SSDI with respect to the benefit offset rules, as opposed to current law. Stage 2 volunteers assigned to the “offset+EWIC” group received enhanced work incentives counseling (EWIC). The primary difference between EWIC and WIC is that EWIC staff take a proactive approach to contacting beneficiaries on an on-going basis to inform them about the BOND demonstration, work incentives, and opportunities for employment services. EWIC staff were instructed to contact all T22 beneficiaries within two weeks of random assignment and contact them thereafter at least once per month over the course of BOND. After all T22 subjects had received at least 18 months of monthly contact, EWIC staff were instructed to contact all engaged T22 subjects at least quarterly, with monthly contacts for those deemed likely to use the offset.

Consistent with study design, EWIC subjects received more counseling services than offset plus WIC subjects. Compared to WIC staff, EWIC staff (1) contacted beneficiaries proactively, (2) followed up with beneficiaries and referral organizations, and (3) used a more systematic beneficiary assessment process. Additionally, EWIC counselors delivered extra services, as designed. The more intensive components of EWIC services include the development of a detailed employment support plan based on assessments of vocational skills and interests, and assistance in helping beneficiaries obtain the resources and support they need to find employment, as well as the ongoing support they need to keep it.

There was no evidence that EWIC had substantially improved beneficiary understanding of the offset offer compared to WIC (T22 versus T21), one of its key purposes. About one and three years after random assignment, roughly half of the treatment subjects demonstrated an understanding of how earnings affect SSDI benefits under the offset. For a robust set of earnings and benefit-related outcomes, there are no differences in the behavioral response of volunteers offered the intensive EWIC services from those offered the less intensive WIC services in any year of the demonstration.

The presentation will discuss possible explanations for the lack of an effect of EWIC services relative to WIC services.