Promoting Equity in Retirement, Disability and Health, a research consortium

Promoting Equity in Retirement, Disability and Health, a research consortium, receives 5-year cooperative agreement from the Social Security Administration

The School of Public Policy at UMBC, in collaboration with the Heller School for Social Policy and Management at Brandeis University, the University of Baltimore, and Westat, has been awarded a five year cooperative agreement from the Social Security Administration through its Retirement and Disability Research Consortium (RDRC) program. Our RDRC – Promoting Equity in Retirement, Disability and Health, is one of six RDRCs funded nationally. We will support the RDRC through completion and dissemination of research, evaluation, and data development; and training and education on retirement and disability policy, with first year funding of almost $2.5 million, of which $2.36 million is federal funding.

Our RDRC collaborators bring a wealth of experience and expertise in retirement and disability policy to the RDRC. Our extensive academic research portfolio and interests, together with our collaborative work with SSA and other federal and state agencies catering to the needs of individuals with disabilities of all ages, position us as a valuable resource to this initiative.

Three themes capture the focus and intent of our research agenda.

The first theme is equity in access to Social Security retirement for under recognized and underserved segments of society. Under recognized and underserved segments of society do not necessarily reflect groups identified by their personal characteristics or identities, such as race/ethnicity, sex or gender affiliation. Instead, they are groups of people who have a common set of circumstances that bind them together mainly because of the intersection of their personal situations and social security policies, rules, or regulations.

Funded research includes:
• Relationships between multigenerational living arrangements and retirement savings and expectations across race and ethnicity from 1998 to 2022
• Contingent work and workplace injuries and their impact on use of SSI/DI and retirement decisions

The second theme concerns the intersection of health and access to healthcare and equitable SSI/DI program participation. While health and healthcare are central to Social Security disability, their role in healthcare access obscures effective disability determination.
• COVID-19 in adults with disabilities: Examining disparities in prevalence, health care access and use, and employment
• The experience of SSDI beneficiaries in the two year waiting period for Medicare

• Barriers to accessing healthcare services among denied SSDI/SSI applicants

• Barriers to mental health and substance use disorder treatment for persons with disabilities in SSA programs

The third theme is disparities in SSI/DI program access and participation. The three projects we present under this theme address disparities in access to disability programs through a different methodological lens. These qualitative and community-based projects attempt to understand the experiences of people with disabilities and their disability application experience.
• Challenges in accessing Supplemental Security Income for people with disabilities
• Community-informed strategies to increase enrollment in SSDI and SSI
• SSA benefits: Investigating the beneficiary experience

The RDRC will support a training program intended to diversify and increase the field of early-career research scientists and policy analysts focusing on retirement, disability, and health through an innovative, transdisciplinary, multi-site training and education collaboration. Our training activities include an undergraduate mentored summer research program housed at UMBC and the University of Baltimore, both Minority Serving Institutions; a doctoral fellowship program; dissertation grants for research on retirement, health and disability; and mentoring for doctoral and post-doctoral scholars as they conduct pilot studies and/or academic papers.

As part of our overall dissemination efforts, the RDRC will build a community-based network of partners and collaborators to support the development of Center research projects and products that inform not only researchers and policymakers, but providers, advocates, and the general public. This community-engaged collaboration in multiple communities will facilitate both our research and dissemination efforts. The collaborative will include groups who are engaged in the Social Security enterprise; including the research community, the academic community, vocational rehabilitation providers, physical and mental health service providers, community assistance organizations (legal, social service, and otherwise), and representatives of people with disabilities and support organizations.