It is OOD’s mission to provide individuals with disabilities opportunities to achieve quality employment and to live independently. In many cases, the individuals receiving services through the VR program are also recipients of Supplemental Security Income (SSI) from the Social Security Administration (SSA), and may have come to rely on those resources as a means of supporting themselves and their families financially. According to SSA data, there were 310,318 SSI recipients in Ohio in December 2016. (Social Security Administration, Table 7.B1, 2018) Of those recipients, 45,434 were under the age of 18. (Social Security Administration, Table 7.B8, 2018) According to the U.S. Census 5-year population projections for 2016, there were 129,502 individuals with disabilities in Ohio under the age of 18, indicating that approximately 35 percent of youth with disabilities in Ohio receive SSI.
Reliance on SSI, however, may not be a guaranteed strategy for long-term financial support. When a child SSI recipient reaches age 18, SSA requires that their claim be re-determined under the rules that pertain to adult disability determinations. The adult rules can differ significantly from those that apply to child claims, potentially disqualifying the individual from receiving continued SSI payments. According to SSA, between 1998 and 2008, 47.8 percent of child recipients of SSI experienced a cessation of benefits upon redetermination at age 18. (Hemmeter & Stegman Bailey, 2015) Applying this percentage to the figures cited above, approximately 21,717 of the youth who received SSI in 2016 will experience a cessation of benefits upon age-18 redetermination. Because they may not be prepared for employment when benefits are ceased, approximately half of child SSI recipients are left with no means to support themselves in adulthood, with 9.4 percent returning to SSI within 10 years. (Hemmeter & Stegman Bailey, 2015)
OOD’s VR program has the potential to affect change in this environment, enabling youth recipients of SSI and their families to become better prepared for life without those benefits. One path to improved outcomes may be through postsecondary education. In 2007, SSA conducted a study in cooperation with the National Technical Institute for the Deaf (NTID) examining the outcomes achieved by SSI youth who applied for postsecondary education at NTID. The results of this study indicate that SSI students do have a lower probability of graduation than non-SSI students, suggesting that postsecondary retention programs developed specifically for SSI youth may be an effective intervention. SSI youth who do graduate achieve higher earnings than those who do not graduate and receive adult SSI for a shorter period of time.
Perhaps the most compelling result of this study addresses the outcomes achieved by graduates in comparison to those who did not attend NTID at all. The study authors noted that “[c]ompared with SSI children who were accepted to NTID but chose not to attend, SSI children who graduated from NTID left the SSI program 19 months earlier, were less likely to reenter the program, and at age 30 had increased their earnings by an estimated 49 percent.” (Weathers, et al, 2007) Those differences are significant and strongly suggest that a potential strategy for reducing dependence on SSI among youth recipients is to emphasize postsecondary education as a path to employment.
Outreach and information efforts may form another path to improving employment outcomes among youth recipients of SSI. As authorized by WIOA, VR is now able to deliver Pre-Employment Transition Services (Pre-ETS) to students with disabilities who are potentially eligible for VR services. This includes delivering additional authorized activities related to disseminating information, as suggested in OOD’s proposed demonstration project between the Division of Disability Determination and VR to permit provision of VR program information to SSI recipients as part of the age-18 redetermination process. Additional authorized services under Pre-ETS also encourage coordination with local education agencies, and building upon existing partnerships with the Ohio Department of Education could provide a framework under which OOD can increase involvement with youth recipients of SSI. When ready, the youth can then be engaged in more formal VR services related to job development and placement.