The Impact of Specialized Benefits Counseling Services on Social Security Administration Disability Beneficiaries in Vermont

People who receive disability benefits from the Social Security Administration (SSA) have a high unemployment rate partly because they are afraid that, if they take a job, they will lose their benefits, especially their health insurance. One response in Vermont and elsewhere has been to provide them with specialized counseling by experts, who explain how employment will affect their benefits and help them take advantage of work incentives that are available. This article reports preliminary results on Vermont's program. The researchers compared three groups of SSA consumers. There were 672 in each group, and only the first group received counseling. The investigators compared consumers' earned incomes over four years and found that average earnings increased much more for those who had counseling. This study provides the first empirical evidence that benefits counseling makes a financial difference to consumers. According to the study's authors, its main limitation is that they were unable to randomly assign subjects to counseling or non-counseling, which could have biased the results.