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Apr 23 -- The Social Security Administration invites comments to OMB by May 23, 2024 regarding the Retaining Employment and Talent After Injury/Illness Network (RETAIN).

The SSA and the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) are conducting the Retaining Employment and Talent After Injury/Illness Network (RETAIN) demonstration. The RETAIN demonstration tests the impact of early intervention strategies that 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. We loosely modeled the RETAIN Demonstration Projects 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 Projects provide 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 Projects are:

1. To increase employment retention and labor force participation of individuals who acquire, and/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 Retain Demonstration aims to validate and expand evidence-based strategies to accomplish these goals. DOL funds intervention approaches and programmatic technical assistance, while SSA funds 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 provided evaluation-related technical assistance and planning, and conducts evaluability assessments to assess which states' projects would allow for a rigorous evaluation if continued beyond the pilot phase. SSA completed Phase 1 on May 16, 2021. DOL selected a subset of states and continued to Phase 2 full implementation and evaluation on May 17, 2021, which will end in October 2025. During Phase 2, DOL funds the operations and program technical assistance activities for the recommended states, and SSA funds the full set of evaluation activities. 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 provides 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 produces information about operational features that affect service provision; perceptions of the intervention design by service users, providers, administrators, and other stakeholders; 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 produces 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 identifies evaluation designs for each state to generate impact estimates, which could include experimental or non-experimental designs.

• The cost-benefit analysis: This analysis assesses whether the benefits of RETAIN justify its costs, conducted from various perspectives, including participants, state and Federal governments, SSA, and society as a whole.

The purpose and proposed use of this information collection is to gather qualitative and quantitative data needed to conduct the analysis. These activities, include (1) surveys of RETAIN enrollees and (2) follow-up interviews with RETAIN service users. The qualitative data collection consists of: (1) semi-structured interviews with program staff and service users; and (2) staff activity logs. Program staff interviews focus on staff's perceptions of the successes and challenges of implementing each states program, while staff activity logs house information on staff's time to inform the benefit-cost analysis. Service user interviews 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. Respondents learn of the RETAIN program data collection efforts through various outreach methods, including, but not limited to mailings, phone calls, and from other individuals. SSA is constantly reviewing our outreach strategies to ensure maximum exposure and accessibility to the materials. the respondents are staff members selected for staff interviews and staff activity logs, and RETAIN service users, enrollees, and providers.

SSA RETAIN webpage: https://www.ssa.gov/disabilityresearch/retain.htm   
DOL RETAIN webpage:  https://www.dol.gov/agencies/odep/initiatives/saw-rtw
SSA submission to OMB: https://www.reginfo.gov/public/do/PRAViewICR?ref_nbr=202404-0960-002 Click on IC List for survey instruments, View Supporting Statement for technical documentation. Submit comments through this site.
FRN: https://www.federalregister.gov/d/2024-08565 #II.3
For AEA members wishing to submit comments, "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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