Using behavioral outreach to counteract administrative burden and encourage take-up of simplified disability payment rules

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Heinrich Hock
John T. Jones
Michael Levere
David Wittenburg


Messaging, Behavioral outreach, Program take-up, Randomized controlled trial, Disability employment


Take-up of employment programs among people with disabilities can be limited by the administrative burdens of decision-making, which must factor in the complexities of how work affects disability cash assistance payments. This study presents evidence on using outreach motivated by behavioral research to encourage enrollment in a pilot initiative with the Social Security Administration that simplified Social Security Disability Insurance payment rules. Because enrolling would leave some beneficiaries worse off, informed enrollment decisions required understanding both the complexities of current rules and potential effects of the new demonstration rules. We sought to counteract bottlenecks stemming from decision-making burdens through increased outreach with tailored messaging. A randomized controlled trial was used to test two features of a reminder postcard. First, we compared fold-over postcards containing information about the demonstration to open postcards with more generic information, finding that fold-over postcards increased enrollment by around 25 percent (or 0.12 percentage points). Second, we compared an urgent message framing with no stated enrollment end-date to a deadline framing with an explicit enrollment cutoff date. Although the final enrollment rate was similar across timeline framing options, the urgent framing appears to have resulted in faster enrollment.