Rethinking the Promoting Opportunity Demonstration Project

The Bipartisan Budget Act of 2015 (BBA) mandates that the Social Security Administration (SSA) conduct a “Promoting Opportunity Demonstration Project” (POD) to evaluate the effects of altering the treatment of earnings in calculation of benefits for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) beneficiaries who return to work. The change proposed would increase work incentives for some SSDI beneficiaries but reduce them for others. However, because of other requirements contained within the BBA, the POD cannot produce reliable evidence on the impact of the innovation Congress envisions, and it unnecessarily replicates another SSA demonstration, the Benefit Offset National Demonstration (BOND), that is already well underway. This paper, prepared for the Social Security Advisory Board, reviews current policy, outlines the changes proposed for the POD, and shows why restrictions included in the mandate would prevent the POD from yielding results helpful for guiding policy. It also summarizes important insights already gained from the ongoing BOND evaluation. In light of these insights and the problems with the POD design, Congress and the public would be better served if the SSA were allowed to invest research funds and management effort elsewhere.

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