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March 12 -- The Social Security Administration (SSA) invites public comment to OMB on the design of its evaluation of the Retaining Employment and Talent After Injury/Illness Network (RETAIN) demonstration. Comments should be received by April 21, 2021.
 
The Social Security Administration (SSA) and the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) are undertaking the Retaining Employment and Talent After Injury/Illness Network (RETAIN) demonstration. The RETAIN demonstration will test the impact of early intervention strategies to improve stay-at-work/return-to-work (SAW/RTW) outcomes of individuals who experience work disability while employed. We define “work disability” as an injury, illness, or medical condition that has the potential to inhibit or prevent continued employment or labor force participation.

SAW/RTW programs succeed by returning injured or ill workers to productive work as soon as medically possible during their recovery process, and by providing interim part-time or light duty work and accommodations, as necessary. The RETAIN demonstration is loosely modeled after promising programs operating in Washington State, including the Centers of Occupational Health and Education (COHE), the Early Return to Work (ERTW), and the Stay at Work programs. While these programs operate within the state's workers' compensation system, and are available only to people experiencing work-related injuries or illnesses, the RETAIN demonstration provides opportunities to improve SAW/RTW outcomes for both occupational and non-occupational injuries and illnesses of people who are employed, or at a minimum in the labor force, when their injury or illness occurs.  

The primary goals of the RETAIN demonstration are:

1. To increase employment retention and labor force participation of individuals who acquire, or are at risk of developing, work disabilities; and

2. To reduce long-term work disability among RETAIN service users, including the need for Social Security Disability Insurance and Supplemental Security Income.

The ultimate purpose of the demonstration is to validate and expand implementation of evidence-based strategies to accomplish these goals. DOL is funding the intervention approaches and programmatic technical assistance for the demonstration. SSA is funding evaluation support, including technical assistance and the full evaluation for the demonstration.
 
The demonstration consists of two phases. The first involves the implementation and assessment of cooperative awards to eight states to conduct planning and start-up activities, including the launch of a small pilot demonstration. During phase 1, SSA will provide evaluation-related technical assistance and planning, and conduct evaluability assessments to assess which states' projects would allow for a rigorous evaluation if continued beyond the pilot phase. DOL will select a subset of the states to continue to phase 2, full implementation.

Phase 2 will include a subset of states for full implementation and evaluation. During phase 2, DOL will fund the operations and program technical assistance activities for the recommended states, and SSA will fund the full set of evaluation activities.

SSA is requesting clearance for the collection of data needed to implement and evaluate RETAIN. The four components of this evaluation, completed during site visits, interviews with RETAIN service users, surveys of RETAIN enrollees, and surveys of RETAIN service providers, include:

The participation analysis: Using RETAIN service user interviews and surveys, this analysis will provide insights into which eligible workers choose to participate in the program, in what ways they participate, and how services received vary with participant characteristics. Similarly, it will assess the characteristics of, and if possible, reasons for non-enrollment of non-participants.

The process analysis: Using staff interviews and logs, this analysis will produce information about operational features that affect service provision; perceptions of the intervention design by service users, providers, administrators, and other stakeholders; the relationships among the partner organizations; each program's fidelity to the research design; and lessons for future programs with similar objectives.

The impact analysis: This analysis will produce estimates of the effects of the interventions on primary outcomes, including employment and Social Security disability applications, and secondary outcomes, such as health and service usage. SSA will identify evaluation designs for each state to generate impact estimates. The evaluation design could include experimental or non-experimental designs.

The cost-benefit analysis: This analysis will assess whether the benefits of RETAIN justify its costs. We conduct this assessment from a range of perspectives, including those of the participants, state and Federal governments, SSA, and society as a whole.

The proposed data collections to support these analyses include qualitative and quantitative data. At this time, SSA requests clearance for all of these data collection activities. The qualitative data collection consists of: (1) Semi-structured interviews with program staff and service users; and (2) staff activity logs. The program staff will complete interviews during two rounds of site visits. They will focus on staff's perceptions of the successes and challenges of implementing each state's program. The staff activity logs will house information on staff's time to inform the benefit-cost analysis. The service user interviews will inform SSA's understanding of users' experiences with program services. The quantitative data include SSA's program records and survey data. The survey data collection consists of: (1) Two rounds of follow-up surveys, focusing on individual-level outcomes, with enrollees, all of whom who have experienced a disability onset; and (2) two rounds of surveys with RETAIN providers.

The respondents are staff members selected for staff interviews and staff activity logs, and RETAIN service users, enrollees, and providers.
 
An interdisciplinary team of economists, disability policy researchers, and survey researchers on staff at Mathematica or at the evaluation subcontractor (Tree House Economics, LLC) contributed to the design of the overall evaluation.  The team consisted of:
•    Jillian Berk, Ph.D., Mathematica
•    Kenneth Fortson, Ph.D., Mathematica
•    Rosalind Keith, Ph.D., Mathematica
•    Gina Livermore, Ph.D., Mathematica
•    Holly Matulewicz, M.A., Mathematica  
•    David Wittenburg, Ph.D., Mathematica
•    David Stapleton, Ph.D., Tree House Economics, LLC

With the findings of the RETAIN evaluation, SSA and DOL will be able to advise federal policymakers and state administrators on supports, services, and policy and program changes that could improve labor force participation and retention of individuals experiencing the onset of an injury, illness, or condition that could threaten their ability to remain employed.  
 
SSA RETAIN webpage: https://www.ssa.gov/disabilityresearch/retain.htm   
DOL RETAIN webpage:  https://www.dol.gov/agencies/odep/program-areas/employers/saw-rtw
FR notice inviting comment: https://www.federalregister.gov/documents/2021/03/12/2021-05179/agency-information-collection-activities-comment-request
SSA RETAIN submission to OMB: https://www.reginfo.gov/public/do/PRAViewICR?ref_nbr=202103-0960-008 Click IC List for survey instruments, View Supporting Statement for technical documentation  

For AEA members wishing to submit comments to OMB, "A Primer on How to Respond to Calls for Comment on Federal Data Collections" is available at https://www.aeaweb.org/content/file?id=5806

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