JSIT22-04: Does Broadband Technology affect the Applications Rates of the Social Security Benefits?: Evidence during the Closure of Social Security field offices



Estimates suggest that over 42 million Americans lack internet connectivity, and a ‘digital divide’ exists mainly in rural areas and low socioeconomic households. Policymakers have been paying enormous attention recently to broadband connectivity in the US, with over $20 billion investment in rural broadband. In adverse events like Social Security Administration (SSA) field offices’ closures, administrative burdens increase for the applicants. This study will evaluate whether better availability of broadband services helps in Old-Age, Survivors, and Disability Insurance (OASDI)/Supplemental Security Income (SSI) application rates in the event of the SSA field office closures. After the field office closures, applicants have the only option to submit the OASDI/SSI appeal by using the online services. Evidence shows that office closures lower application rates. On the one hand, broadband access could mitigate the negative effect on the application rates due to office closures. On the other hand, if the SSA offices are closed in the low broadband availability areas, that may exacerbate the adverse effect. This paper will contribute to our understanding of the direction and magnitude of the effect. Estimates from this study will be crucial to prioritize the resources for the severely affected regions and households. This research work has important policy implications on policies related to the SSA office closures, broadband availability, and geographic disparities in social security applications.

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