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Soc Secur Bull. 2000;63(1):12-33.

The net effects of the Project NetWork return-to-work case management experiment on participant earnings, benefit receipt, and other outcomes.


The Social Security Administration (SSA) initiated Project NetWork in 1991 to test case management as a means of promoting employment among persons with disabilities. The demonstration, which targeted Social Security Disability Insurance (DI) beneficiaries and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) applicants and recipients, offered intensive outreach, work-incentive waivers, and case management/referral services. Participation in Project NetWork was voluntary. Volunteers were randomly assigned to the "treatment" group or the "control" group. Those assigned to the treatment group met individually with a case or referral manager who arranged for rehabilitation and employment services, helped clients develop an individual employment plan, and provided direct employment counseling services. Volunteers assigned to the control group could not receive services from Project NetWork but remained eligible for any employment assistance already available in their communities. For both treatment and control groups, the demonstration waived specific DI and SSI program rules considered to be work disincentives. The experimental impact study thus measures the incremental effects of case and referral management services. The eight demonstration sites were successful in implementing the experimental design roughly as planned. Project NetWork staff were able to recruit large numbers of participants and to provide rehabilitation and employment services on a substantial scale. Most of the sites easily reached their enrollment targets and were able to attract volunteers with demographic characteristics similar to those of the entire SSI and DI caseload and a broad range of moderate and severe disabilities. However, by many measures, volunteers were generally more "work-ready" than project eligible in the demonstration areas who did not volunteer to receive NetWork services. Project NetWork case management increased average annual earnings by $220 per year over the first 2 years following random assignment. This statistically significant impact, an approximate 11-percent increase in earnings, is based on administrative data on earnings. For about 70 percent of sample members, a third year of followup data was available. For this limited sample, the estimated effect of Project NetWork on annual earnings declined to roughly zero in the third followup year. The findings suggest that the increase in earnings may have been short-lived and may have disappeared by the time Project NetWork services ended. Project NetWork did not reduce reliance on SSI or DI benefits by statistically significant amounts over the 30-42 month followup period. The services provided by Project NetWork thus did not reduce overall SSI and DI caseloads or benefits by substantial amounts, especially given that only about 5 percent of the eligible caseload volunteered to participate in Project NetWork. Project NetWork produced modest net benefits to persons with disabilities and net costs to taxpayers. Persons with disabilities gained mainly because the increases in their earnings easily outweighed the small (if any) reduction in average SSI and DI benefits. For SSA and the federal government as a whole, the costs of Project NetWork were not sufficiently offset by increases in tax receipts resulting from increased earnings or reductions in average SSI and DI benefits. The modest net benefits of Project NetWork to persons with disabilities are encouraging. How such benefits of an experimental intervention should be weighed against costs of taxpayers depends on value judgments of policymakers. Because different case management projects involve different kinds of services, these results cannot be directly generalized to other case management interventions. They are nevertheless instructive for planning new initiatives. Combining case and referral management services with various other interventions, such as longer term financial support for work or altered provider incentives, could produc

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