Congress Moves to Strengthen Representative Payee Program

Beyond the Numbers

Date: 
Wednesday, January 10, 2018
Posted by: 
The Communications Division

Editor's Note: The President signed the legislation discussed in this post into law on April 13, 2018.

Congress recently proposed bipartisan legislation to strengthen SSA’s management and oversight of the representative payee program, which provides financial management for Social Security beneficiaries who are incapable of handling their payments.

After spending much of 2017 discussing the representative payee program with SSA, the OIG, and other interested parties, Social Security Subcommittee Chairman Sam Johnson and Ranking Member John Larson in December introduced the Strengthening Protections for Social Security Beneficiaries Act.   

Congress is particularly concerned with the health and well-being of beneficiaries in need of payees to manage their benefits. About 6 million payees manage about $70 billion for about 8 million Social Security beneficiaries, thus the payee program requires close monitoring and oversight, according to Congressional leaders. 

Specifically, the legislation would: 

  • Increase the number of payee performance reviews, require additional types of onsite payee reviews, and improve review effectiveness by requiring States to conduct the reviews on behalf of SSA. 
  • Allow beneficiaries to designate their preferred payee in advance of actually needing one; and ensure improved selection of payees by requiring SSA to assess the appropriateness of the preference list used to select payees. 
  • Improve beneficiary protections by increasing information-sharing between SSA and child-welfare agencies, and by directing SSA to study how better to coordinate with adult protective-service agencies and with state guardianship courts. 
  • Ensure that no beneficiary has a barred payee, by banning individuals with certain criminal convictions from serving as payees and by prohibiting individuals who have payees from serving as payees for others. 

Johnson and Larson introduced the legislation after the House Ways and Means Subcommittees on Social Security and Oversight held two joint hearings on the payee program last February and March. Congress discussed payee program issues with SSA, the OIG, and special-interest groups; they reviewed how SSA determines a beneficiary needs a payee, and how SSA selects and monitors payee performance.

During the hearings, Acting Inspector General Gale Stallworth Stone detailed several payee-program recommendations the OIG made to SSA over the years, so the agency could properly identify beneficiaries who need payees, ensure the integrity of capability determinations (an SSA decision that a beneficiary requires a payee to manage his/her payments), appoint and monitor trusted payees, and make proper payments.

“Oversight of the payee program presents a unique challenge for the agency,” Stone said during the February hearing. “However, it is critical that SSA explore all options to ensure it meets the needs of some of our most vulnerable beneficiaries.”   

When introducing the legislation, Johnson said, “The Social Security Administration has a big responsibility to make sure Americans who need help managing their benefits get it. Too many Americans are counting on the Social Security Administration to get this right.”

Larson added, “We have held a series of hearings on the representative payee program this year, bringing in experts to gain better insight over how the program works and where changes are needed. We are proud to introduce this bill that will better safeguard those most in need of protection.”