Losing disability benefits upon turning 18 is likely to shrink a new adult’s income—but that’s often not the case for families whose younger children lose benefits, according to Manasi Deshpande, a doctoral student in the Department of Economics at MIT. Last month Deshpande released drafts of two studies that shed light on how much the loss of Supplemental Security Income (SSI) can typically be balanced—or not—through employment. “Determining the future of the SSI program starts with research like Deshpande’s,” writes Jeff Guo, who recently summarized and responded to the studies on the Washington Post policy blog Storyline.

For the disabled living in poverty, Supplemental Security Income can add up to as much as $721 a month. Approximately 1.3 million of the more than 8 million people on SSI are children with a range of physical, behavioral, and developmental disabilities.

Deshpande’s first paper hinges on the fact that 1996 welfare reform newly required children turning 18 to be reevaluated for SSI against stringent eligibility standards. Deshpande studied SSI recipients who turned 18 in the months before and after the reform took effect. She found that even if the 18-year-olds who lost their SSI benefits were able to increase their earnings, this generally did not make up for the lack of SSI income. Conversely, her second paper indicates, most parents whose younger children lose their SSI eligibility (which can happen through periodic checks) found a way to balance the loss of the SSI income.

“Deshpande’s first paper suggests that we should take seriously the children who display significant learning disabilities or mental disorders,” Guo concludes, but notes that while Deshpande’s papers avoid speculation, there are two ways her second study could be interpreted: “A miserly reaction might be that we should not hand out disability checks to children if it’s just going to encourage their parents to shirk work. A more generous reaction would be that parents should naturally want to work less if they can, in order to devote more time to their disabled child.”

Read Guo’s full story on Deshpande’s research at the Washington Post.

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