Substantial Gainful Activity (SGA) Project Demonstration

Prepared for
U.S. Department of Education, Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services

For a variety of reasons, the Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) program has grown substantially in recent years. Typically, once individuals enter the SSDI program, the chances that they will ever leave for reasons other than death or the transition to the Social Security retirement program are minimal. Finding ways to improve employment outcomes can (1) help some SSDI beneficiaries be more independent and successful economically, and (2) contribute to slowing the rapid growth in the SSDI program.

The Institute for Community Inclusion (ICI) at the University of Massachusetts-Boston and Mathematica received a grant to develop a demonstration focused on improving the employment outcomes of state vocational rehabilitation (VR) clients who receive only SSDI benefits. In the resulting SGA Project demonstration, two state VR agencies are implementing innovations designed to help these beneficiaries prepare for and find jobs in which their earnings are above the Social Security Administration’s SGA level.

VR agencies—in Kentucky and Minnesota—began participating in the demonstration in 2015. Both states implemented innovations designed to:

  • Increase the pace of and client engagement with services
  • Improve financial education and benefits counseling with a focus on household self-sufficiency
  • Improve job development services and employer relations
  • Improve coordination between the VR staff and providers serving SSDI-only clients

Mathematica evaluated the demonstration through a rigorous design in which local VR offices in both states were randomly assigned to receive either the enhanced SGA Project services or the usual services. Findings from the evaluation indicate not only that both states increased the pace of service receipt but also that the SGA Project innovations led to better employment outcomes. 

Under this project, Mathematica also developed a free, web-based application, called the VR Program Evaluation Coach, which can be used by VR agencies to conduct their own evaluations of service delivery innovations.