While welfare agencies and the federal disability system have common goals of supporting people with disabilities and helping them become more independent, the two systems often have diverging interests as well. Differing missions, programmatic and financial challenges, definitions of disability, and rules and incentives related to work make it challenging for the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) programs to work together. Moreover, TANF recipients who apply for SSI confront conflicting messages regarding work requirements and benefit eligibility that can undermine efforts to meet their needs, as well as their ability to work and become more independent.
In order to address these problems, the Administration for Children and Families (ACF) in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services contracted with MDRC to assist ACF and the Social Security Administration (SSA) to manage the TANF/SSI Disability Transition Project (TSDTP). TSDTP sought to better understand the relationship between the TANF and SSI systems with regard to TANF applicants and recipients who might have a disability. By working closely with both federal agencies and participating state TANF agencies, the project analyzed program data and developed and implemented pilot tests of program interventions targeted to this population. Families, states, TANF agencies, and SSA can all benefit when this population receives appropriate services efficiently — moving toward employment when possible, making informed decisions about applying to SSI, and receiving SSI as quickly as possible when they are eligible, while agencies reduce administrative costs. These were the goals of TSDTP.