Report: Homeless Women Less Likely To Be Approved For Disability Benefits

Aug 25, 2017

NC State University researcher have found that homeless women, and people who are already receiving public services, are less likely to be approved for federal disability benefits.
Credit Jim Forest / Flickr, Creative Commons,

Homeless women, and people who are already receiving public assistance, are less likely to be approved for federal disability benefits, according to NC State University researchers.

Psychologist Sarah Desmarais and her team reviewed more than 6,000 applications prepared by an assistance program called SOAR. Desmarais said it's not clear what makes an application successful, but that gender and receipt of other benefits are not good indicators of need.

“What speaks to their level of need are those components of the application that were filled out: so things like, their housing status, whether or not they had a serious mental illness, or other disability that would have prevented them from working,” Desmarais said. “Those are the things that should matter when you're making decisions about an application.”

Desmarais said those reviewing applications should be aware of a potential bias and work to correct.

“The fact that there were aspects of the individuals who were applying that really should not be affecting the decision making calls into question whether or not there are undue biases on the part of those folks who are making decisions about who receives benefits,” she said.

Desmarais said the people processing applications should be more aware of these factors, and  the Social Services Administration should consider implementing strategies to increase approval rates for homeless women and people receiving other services.

“It might be the fact that we need to put more resources into the SOAR program specifically targeting homeless women,” she said. “It could be that something about the applications themselves wasn't quite as strong as applications for men. And so there's a lot of different ways that we need to start looking at systemically why this difference was occurring.”

The report appeared in this month's journal, Psychiatric Services.