Case Study: Informing Sustainable Disability Policy: The National Beneficiary Survey

Large-Scale Survey Sheds Light on Employment Activities
Project Facts

The NBS collects data on a wide range of topics including socio-demographic information, limiting conditions, health and functional status, health insurance, interest in work, barriers to work, use of services, employment, income, and experience with Social Security programs.

Our statisticians and survey researchers build in components to enable adjustments to sample allocations based on the field experience, as well as to permit the testing of alternative data collection procedures or incentives. For the prior NBS, Mathematica was able to quickly implement special studies for subsamples of the study population with minimal change to the study schedule.

All of our telephone interviewers are rigorously trained in both general telephone-interviewing techniques and survey research approaches that help minimize bias and nonresponse. In addition, enhanced interviewer training to increase sensitivity has become a standard feature of our surveys involving persons with disabilities.

Notes on Data Collection. We use computer-assisted telephone interviewing (CATI) and computer assisted personal interviewing (CAPI) to collect data from beneficiaries. Both modes were fully integrated to simplify reporting and data processing. In total, we conducted more than 20,000 beneficiary interviews for the first four rounds of the survey. We reached or exceeded our response rate targets for the first three rounds of the NBS (averaging 80 percent) and reached over 70 percent for the fourth round. As part of our effort to innovate and develop best practices, we have introduced design features into survey questionnaires to overcome communication, stamina, and cognitive barriers. We have also designed data collection procedures to maximize self-response while ensuring data quality.

The Issue

With the number of disability claims continuing to rise, policymakers have a pressing interest in improving employment outcomes for people who receive benefits from Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI), and in reducing their reliance on these support programs. There is increasing pressure on Social Security Administration (SSA) programs that may prove challenging to sustain. Policymakers need access to a wide variety of high-quality data on people with disabilities in order to better understand their needs, assess how existing program and policy performance, and plan for the future.

The Approach

Mathematica has successfully conducted four rounds of the NBS using computer-assisted telephone interviewing (CATI) and computer assisted personal interviewing (CAPI) to collect data from beneficiaries while achieving high response rates. This has provided SSA with high quality and timely data on a wide range of topics including socio-demographic information, limiting conditions, health and functional status, health insurance, interest in work, barriers to work, use of services, employment, income, and experience with Social Security programs.

Our success is the direct result of coupling strong leadership and experience with frequent communication and practical project and security management tools. Our unique qualifications to conduct this important survey include our knowledge of disability policy research, familiarity with SSA programs and data, expertise in conducting large-scale, longitudinal surveys of people with disabilities, and experience preparing restricted and public use data files and documentation. This proven combination of expertise and experience will be used in subsequent rounds of the NBS.

The Impacts

The NBS has played an important role in improvements to the TTW program. The leading barriers and disincentives reported include the potential loss of income or health benefits, poor health and functioning, lack of sufficient skills, and lack of a variety of disability services (for example, accessible transportation), but there are other, including:

  • Most people are not aware of Social Security programs that can help them live more independently or work.
  • People use many different support services to help them live on their own or work (like special equipment and counseling and occupational therapy, job training and job-search assistance).

  • 1 out of 10 people said they are not receiving services that they need.

  • Even with health problems, many people in Social Security programs want to work: 4 out of 10 people we surveyed in 2010 said they had work goals or saw themselves working within the next five years.

With this valuable information, SSA and other agencies are developing and implementing initiatives intended to improve these outcomes. Changes to the TTW program give beneficiaries with disabilities greater flexibility and expanded choices in obtaining the services they need to attain their employment goals. Mathematica’s work  highlights the important role that beneficiary survey data can play in the design and evaluation of planned and future initiatives and in providing basic information about the socioeconomic and functional status of beneficiaries that is not available from any other source.

To learn more about how Mathematica Policy Research can provide solutions to your challenges, contact: Communications@mathematica-mpr.com

This case study is for informational purposes only. Mathematica Policy Research, a nonpartisan research firm, provides a full range of research and data collection services, including program evaluation and policy research, survey design  and data collection, research assessment and interpretation, and program performance/data management, to improve public well-being. Its clients include federal and state governments, foundations, and private-sector and international organizations. The employee-owned company, with offices in Princeton, N.J.; Ann Arbor, Mich.; Cambridge, Mass.; Chicago, Ill.; Oakland, Calif.; and Washington, D.C., has conducted some of the most important studies of education, disability, health care, family support, employment, nutrition, and early childhood policies and programs.

About the Project

The National Beneficiary Survey (NBS), sponsored by the Social Security Administration’s (SSA) Office of Retirement and Disability Policy, collects data on the employment-related activities of working-age Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) beneficiaries.

Mathematica has been conducting the NBS since its inception in 2004 and we will be implementing additional survey rounds in 2015, 2017, and 2019.

The first four rounds of the survey were part of a study required by Congress to evaluate how well the Ticket to Work (TTW) and other SSA programs were meeting the needs of disability beneficiaries.

Future rounds will focus on factors associated with successful and unsuccessful work attempts by beneficiaries.