On these pages back at the tail end of 2017 we let you know about POD (Promoting Opportunity Demonstration). POD was a new demonstration project that Social Security was implementing to see how a different set of work incentives might change outcomes for working SSDI beneficiaries. 

POD’s rules were categorized as follows ” (POD) will test a benefit offset based on earnings. Under traditional rules, an SSDI beneficiary would lose their entire cash benefit if earnings are above the current Substantial Gainful Activity (SGA) level of $1,170 for 2017 following the end of a 9 month Trial Work Period. Under POD rules, this “cash cliff” is eliminated and replaced with a benefit offset of $1 for every $2 earned above a benchmark amount ($840 for 2017). So, a POD enrolled beneficiary subject to one of the test group rules may be able to earn more than the traditional SGA limit and still keep some of his or her benefit. POD rules enable some beneficiaries the opportunity to earn more and still keep some of their benefit, removing the fear of losing benefits and encouraging a higher earnings potential. It also offers simplified reporting methods for reporting earnings.”

The project ended in 2021, but it was only 2 weeks ago that SSA officially closed it all down. So now that’s all over what did it all prove? The findings of the project were actually completed and filed in a report way back on February 11, 2022 which you can read here : 

Promoting Opportunity Demonstration: Summary of the Final Findings (ssa.gov)

To summarize the summary, it wasn’t a raging success. Beneficiaries in the two treatment groups (Group 2 would face termination from SSDI if they worked for 12 months at a rate that reduced their offset amount to $0, whereas Group 1 did not face that consequence) acted similarly enough that their results were effectively the same. There was no significant impact on the beneficiaries’ earnings, SSDI benefit amounts or income, but there was a statistical increase in the percentage of beneficiaries whose work activity was at above the standard SGA level.

The benefits of that modest gain were deemed to be offset by the costs to Social Security in administration, counseling and a net increase in SSDI payments. Furthermore, there were no real improvements for participants in ‘health, health insurance or other program benefits’.

Further undermining the project were the findings that the majority of participants continued to have limited understanding of the rules of the game they were playing in. Additionally there were on-going issues with reporting earnings accurately and in a timely manner, which led to  overpayments and underpayments: an administrative burden to the agency and a more pressing issue to the participants.  

By the report’s conclusion it can be surmised that the authors deemed the project had not proven itself a viable alternative to the current state of affairs, but the present situation remains unsatisfactory. An invitation for a new demonstration project if ever there was one.