Does the Drop in Child SSI Applications and Awards During COVID Vary by Locality?
Child applications and awards for Supplemental Security Income (SSI) fell sharply at the outset of the COVID-19 pandemic. Cumulative applications from April to September 2020 were about 30 percent lower than applications over the same period in 2019. Yet the decline varied substantially across local areas. In this paper, we explore the factors correlated with the change in applications and awards at the beginning of the pandemic.
The paper found that:
- The restriction of in-person services at all Social Security Administration (SSA) field offices in March 2020 played an important role in changes in SSI applications; counties with their own field offices, where the change in service availability is largest, experienced larger declines.
- The pandemic’s myriad disruptions to social and service networks through which people may learn about SSI also contributed to declining applications, as declines were largest in counties with more children that participated in SSI before the pandemic and in counties where more people had a self-identified disability.
- New macroeconomic stabilization policies such as economic impact payments and supplemental unemployment insurance payments also appear to have led to fewer child SSI applications. Counties with larger employment reductions early in the pandemic, which likely benefited most from these stabilization policies, subsequently also had fewer SSI applications.
The policy implications of the findings are:
- The results point to ways that SSA might more effectively conduct outreach to ensure equitable access to child SSI as the pandemic wanes. Tapping into local networks, such as increasing outreach activities with local organizations or school staff, might be an especially effective way for SSA to ensure that people are sufficiently aware of the child SSI program.
- Administrative burdens in the application process for benefit programs can reduce participation even when eligibility is unchanged. Although SSA did not consider the income received from economic impact payments and supplemental unemployment insurance benefits in determining financial eligibility for SSI, applications still declined more in places with larger employment reductions. Additionally, the restriction of in-person services at field offices may have been more burdensome in places where it was previously easier to visit a nearby field office.