2023 Sandell Grant Program Recipients

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The Unintended Consequences of Roosevelt’s Reforms: Retirement Savings, Peacetime Inflation, and the Persistence of Racial Wealth Inequality in the U.S.
Vellore Arthi, University of California, Irvine

Project Description: Life insurance was historically an important vehicle for retirement savings and for wealth accumulation within and across generations.  For complex historical reasons including systemic racial barriers to financial access, Black households were especially likely relative to their white counterparts to hold these low-risk but also low-return savings/investment vehicles.  The incentives to hold these policies changed dramatically for the worse – and disproportionately so for Black households in particular – upon the advent of two broad New Deal-era policies: the advent of Social Security and the reformulation of key tenets of macroeconomic policy by the Federal Reserve.  What were the consequences for racial disparities?

In this study, I ask: what are the distributional impacts of macroeconomic policy in the presence of racially segregated financial markets?  More specifically, did facially neutral New Deal-era policies relating to retirement savings and inflation contribute to persistent racial wealth gaps through their interaction with long-standing racialized patterns in insurance demand – itself a historically popular mechanism for retirement savings?

Exploring ABLE Program Participation and Accessibility: A Multi-Methodological Approach
Stephen McGarity and Zibei Chen, University of Tennessee

Project Description: Saving money is difficult for individuals who receive Supplemental Security Income (SSI) due to the stringent asset limits imposed by the program.  SSI recipients are limited to $2,000 in resources, and any excess assets may result in a reduction or loss of benefits.  In order to address this issue and aid individuals with disabilities in their efforts to save and pay for qualified disability-related expenses without jeopardizing their access to public assistance programs, Congress passed the ABLE Act of 2014, thereby creating ABLE accounts.  Despite the widespread use of these accounts, empirical research on the topic is limited, preventing researchers and policymakers from gaining a full understanding of who is using ABLE accounts and the obstacles that account-eligible individuals face.

The purpose of this study is to explore the barriers that SSI recipients face when attempting to access, open, and maintain ABLE accounts.  Specifically, the study will seek to explore the technological barriers and lived experiences of SSI recipients who are current ABLE account holders and ABLE-eligible individuals, with a particular focus on underrepresented populations within the disability community.  To do this, we will employ qualitative approaches to: (a) conduct a content analysis of the accessibility of ABLE account websites and program documents; and (b) conduct focus groups exploring the experiences of individuals who have opened or considered opening an ABLE account.  The results of this study will contribute to public policy discussions and help inform the design of strategies designed to enhance access to ABLE accounts for individuals with disabilities.

Benefit Generosity, Take-up, and Behavioral Responses: Evidence from SSI
Riley Wilson, Brigham Young University

Project Description: Since 2010, there has been a steady, precipitous drop in Supplemental Security Income (SSI) applications.  Thus far, we have little understanding of how changes in eligibility or changes in take-up contribute to this decline.  One reason we know so little is because the federal standardization of SSI provides little exogenous variation to test how various factors affect the SSI application decision.  In this research, I propose to examine one relevant factor that could influence both eligibility and take-up: benefit generosity.  Many states offer supplemental benefits to federal SSI recipients.  These additional payments vary across states, can sometimes be large (approaching 30 percent of the federal maximum), and have changed from time to time.  Using a border discontinuity design, I propose to exploit these SSI state supplements and compare application rates between neighboring zip codes that face different maximum SSI benefits (federal + state) when the state supplements change.  Using administrative data on zip code applications and awards, I can identify how responsive both applications and awards are to SSI generosity, and also explore heterogeneity across age and primary disability diagnosis.  I will combine this with Census data to explore potential behavioral responses, such as labor supply decisions and welfare migration.  This analysis will shed light on how SSI generosity affects both the eligibility and take-up margin and help unpack the black box of the SSI application decision.  Based on these patterns, I can then observe how the relative importance of benefit generosity has changed over time, and document to what extent this has contributed to the aggregate decline in applications since 2010.  This will shed light on both the decline in SSI applications and SSI take-up.

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