Essays on social insurance program design
Author(s)Gray, Colin(Colin Travis)
Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Department of Economics.
David Autor, Amy Finkelstein and James Poterba.
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This thesis studies the causal impacts of social insurance program design on household behavior and program-relevant outcomes. Each paper considers a major design feature of a large social insurance program - work requirements, periodic recertifications, or eligibility appeals - and considers how program-relevant outcomes would differ if this specific feature were modified. The first chapter - co-authored with Adam Leive, Elena Prager, Mary Zaki, and Kelsey Pukelis - studies the impacts of work requirements in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). We use administrative data from Virginia to estimate the effects of work requirements on SNAP participation, beneficiary composition, and labor supply. Using discontinuities in age that determine whether a beneficiary is subject to work requirements, we find that the policy dramatically reduces overall SNAP participation and disproportionately screens out long-term SNAP beneficiaries.While we fail to detect statistically significant impacts of work requirements on average employment or earnings, we find evidence that work requirements cause a portion of the wage distribution to shift right in the vicinity of the minimum work requirements threshold. In the second chapter, I study retention in the SNAP program. This paper uses administrative data from SNAP across seven states to establish three facts. First, retention in SNAP is low, with approximately one-half of entering cases leaving in the first year. Second, qualitative evidence and quantitative simulations suggest that approximately half of those who exit in the first year remain eligible. Third, using the staggered roll-out of an online case management tool in Michigan, I find that this simplification meaningfully reduced the rate of long-term exit at key verification dates.These facts suggest that eligible retention is very incomplete, and that ongoing simplification efforts increase retention among eligible beneficiaries. In the third chapter, I study the role of adding or subtracting a stage of appeal in determining eligibility for the Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) program. On one hand, fewer stages of appeal means fewer opportunities to demonstrate eligibility, which may decrease overall allowances, administrative costs, and processing times. On the other hand, if applicants and adjudicators anticipate future appeals and infer information from past appeals, these effects may be mitigated or reversed. After showing the theoretical determinants of these effects, I study a 1999 reform to the Social Security disability adjudication process in which ten states eliminated an intermediate appeals stage.In line with the latter model, I find evidence that eliminating this appeals stage increased allowances onto the program, and had muted effects on processing times and administrative costs due to specific dynamic responses.
Thesis: Ph. D., Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Department of Economics, 2020Cataloged from PDF of thesis.Includes bibliographical references (pages 149-153).
DepartmentMassachusetts Institute of Technology. Department of Economics
Massachusetts Institute of Technology