The Importance of Schools in Driving Children’s Applications for Disability Benefits
We explore the extent to which schools affect children’s applications to Supplemental Security Income (SSI). Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, schools varied in the extent to which they offered in-person learning during the 2020-21 school year. We use this variation to better understand the way schools, potentially through teacher referrals and informal networks, influence applications to SSI.
The paper found that:
- Applications were about 15 percent lower in counties with virtual learning relative to counties where all learning was in person.
- Applications bounced back to some extent as students returned to in-person learning.
- The effects were largest among elementary school children.
- Subgroup analyses indicate that school staff and the identification and referral services they may offer, as well as informal networks play an important role.
The policy implications of the findings are:
- Schools are an important channel through which children and families learn about and ultimately apply for SSI.
- Educating teachers, school psychologists, and other school staff about SSI to ensure that they know about it and can identify students likely to be eligible (at least from a disability perspective) might help promote greater access.