Social Security Disability

The Problem: Getting benefits under either the Social Security Disability Insurance (“SSDI”) program or the Supplemental Security Income (“SSI”) program is a complex process. What potential solutions most effectively help people navigate the system?

May 26, 2016

Social Security Disability

The Study

Field operation

To be eligible for the study, an individual must be an adult seeking to appeal an adverse decision regarding eligibility for disability benefits to an administrative law judge (“ALJ”).  The decision might have been either a denial of a request for reconsideration (under the traditional Social Security Administration (“SSA”) system) or an adverse ruling from a federal reviewing officer (under the new Disability Service Improvement (“DSI”) process).  The applicant might be seeking benefits under either the Social Security Disability Insurance (“SSDI”) program or the Supplemental Security Income (“SSI”) program.

After a thorough screening and intake process, consenting individuals are randomized into one of two groups:

  • Treated group: representation by student advocate in a law school clinic
  • Control group: a self-help packet on disability appeals, as well as referral to other legal services providers, and a copy of their own intake information (to streamline the information-gathering that another legal services provider would need).

Outcomes

Randomization is currently active. When the field operation is over, we will analyze the following outcomes for both groups:

  • Were benefits awarded or denied?
  • If awarded, what amount?
  • Compliance with the randomization: did individuals in the control group obtain representation elsewhere? Did individuals in the treatment group continue with their representation?

The Research Team

Jim Greiner, Faculty Director, Access to Justice Lab; Professor of Law, Harvard Law School