TANF-SSI Disability Transition Project

Both welfare agencies and the Federal disability system seek to support people with disabilities and help them become more independent. However, the two systems often have differing missions and organization, definitions of disability, operational and financial issues, and work rules and incentives, making it challenging for the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) programs to work together. TANF clients who apply for SSI may also encounter conflicting messages from TANF agencies regarding work requirements and benefit eligibility.

To help us understand the relationship between the TANF and SSI populations and programs better, we worked with the Administration for Children and Families (ACF) to launch the TANF-SSI Disability Transition Project (TSDTP) in October 2008.  The ACF, TANF agencies, and low-income individuals with disabilities and their families all benefit from effective and efficient services — moving toward employment when possible, making informed decisions about applying for SSI, receiving SSI as quickly as possible, and reducing administrative costs. 

Working with ACF, TANF agencies in California, Florida, Michigan, Minnesota, and New York, select counties in these states, and the evaluation firm MDRC, we analyzed program data and pilot-testing several program interventions for TANF clients with disabilities. 

Analysis of merged TANF and SSI administrative data and field assessments in seven sites identified the following findings:

  • The overlap between the TANF and SSI populations is not large. Less than four percent of SSI applicants in FY 2007 received TANF at some point during the year prior to their SSI application.
  • There is little formal coordination between TANF and SSA.  It is often informal, locally based, and driven by personal relationships. Most TANF staff members know little about our disability determination process.
  • There is no evidence that TANF agencies are inappropriately pushing TANF recipients to SSI. Despite the lack of coordination between TANF and SSA, TANF recipients who apply for SSI are equally likely to be awarded benefits when compared to SSI applicants who are not TANF recipients.

Three States pilot-tested programmatic innovations, with the following key findings:

  • Providing an array of co-located services targeting TANF recipients with work impairments increased employment and earnings.
  • Improving the level coordination and communication between a TANF agency and SSA did not result in substantial improvements of SSI applications.

On December 31, 2013, the project concluded with the following final reports on data analysis, program coordination, pilot test observations, and options for a larger demonstration project.