Letters to adults 65 or older increased SSI awards by 340%

People sitting on bench with ocean in background

People sitting on bench with ocean in background

What was the challenge?

The Social Security Administration (SSA) administers Supplemental Security Income (SSI) as a monthly means-tested cash payment to people who have low income and assets and are disabled, blind, or age 65 or older. Survey data from the National Institutes of Health-supported Health and Retirement Study suggest that less than 60 percent of individuals age 65 or older who may be eligible for SSI receive the benefit, and administrative data from SSA suggest that uptake may be substantially lower.

What was the program change?

SSA identified over 4 million individuals age 65-80 who were potentially eligible for SSI, and sent one of four letter variations to a sub-sample of them.


How did the evaluation work?

Individuals were randomly assigned to receive one of four letter types or to a control condition (i.e., no targeted information about potential SSI eligibility): (1) a basic letter; (2) a letter which states the maximum benefit; (3) a letter which states that applying is simple; (4) a letter combining the maximum benefit element and the “applying is simple” element. SSA sent 100,000 of each letter variation.


What was the impact?

All of the letters had a large and statistically significant impact on applications and awards. Of beneficiaries who received a letter, 6% applied for SSI in the nine months after the letters were sent out, compared with 1% of beneficiaries who did not receive a letter. Similarly, 2.3% of beneficiaries who received a letter were awarded SSI during this time, compared with 0.5% of beneficiaries who did not receive a letter, an increase of 340%.

Read the blog: OES letters quadrupled SSI awards Read the blog: Using OES evidence to inform SSA outreach

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Related Working Paper:
Hemmeter, Jeffrey, John Phillips, Elana Safran, and Nicholas Wilson. “Communicating Program Eligibility: A Supplemental Security Income (SSI) Field Experiment.” 2021.





Project Type

Impact evaluation of program change


Social Security Administration


Retirement Security


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