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Commissioned Paper: Selection Processes for Social Security Administration Representative Payees of Adults

September 16, 2020

Summary: The Social Security Advisory Board charged Pamela Teaster, Erica Wood, and Laura Sands to conduct an independent research study focusing on the Social Security Administration’s processes for selection of representative payees for adults, with the underlying assumption that a better understanding of the processes involved in the selection of payees ultimately could lead to a reduction in the potential for misuse and abuse while maintaining beneficiary rights.

The goal of the study was to describe current methods and policies in selecting payees and to identify aspects of administrative structures, policies, guidelines, resources, and training that support or deter the selection of efficient and effective  payees. The report is the first to describe Social Security field office practices on the selection of payees for adults.

The study team gathered data using a two-phase process of in-depth, in-person interviews, and a national survey of field office managers. Data revealed challenges and implementable solutions for determining capability, increasing quality, handling a growing workload, designating guardians as payees, and selecting a range of organizational payees. Study findings revealed inconsistencies in the practice of determining capability and selecting payees.

The report’s 35 recommendations address many aspects of payee appointment and selection in the current SSA program, including specific changes in policy,  guidance, administration, communications, forms, technology, training, and research.


On September 24, the Board held a virtual public forum to discuss the findings of this report and other aspects of payee selection. 

See the forum home page.


About the authors:

Pamela B. Teaster, PhD, is a Professor of Human Development and Family Science and the Director of the Center for Gerontology at Virginia Tech. Teaster is the North American Representative of the International Network for the Prevention of Elder Abuse, President of the Board of Trustees for the Center for Guardianship Certification and serves on the Editorial Boards of the Journal of Elder Abuse and Neglect and the Journal of Trauma, Violence, and Abuse Review. Teaster’s areas of scholarship include the abuse of elders and vulnerable adults, guardianship, end-of-life issues, ethical treatment of older adults, and public policy and public affairs. Teaster has published over 200 scholarly articles, reports, and book chapters and is the editor/author of 6 books. Teaster received a PhD and a Certificate in Gerontology from Virginia Tech.

Erica F. Wood, JD, recently retired as Assistant Director of the American Bar Association Commission on Law and Aging, and continues work on issues relating to elder rights, long-term care, and guardianship reform. Associated with the Commission between 1980 and 2019, Wood worked primarily on adult guardianship and less restrictive decision-making options, legal services delivery, dispute resolution, health and long-term care, and access to court. Wood participated in national studies on public guardianship and guardianship monitoring, and played a role in convening three national consensus conferences on guardianship reform. Wood is a member of the Virginia State Bar and was appointed by the Governor as a Member of the Virginia Commonwealth Council on Aging. Wood received a BA from the University of Michigan and a JD from George Washington University.

Laura P. Sands, PhD, is Professor of Human Development and Family Science at Virginia Tech. Sands is also Editor-in-Chief of Innovating in Aging, a journal of the Gerontological Society of America. Sands’ research focuses on improving the efficiency and effectiveness of care approaches for vulnerable older adults, including those with disabilities, those lacking sufficient health care, and those exposed to a disaster. Sands has published more than a hundred articles in peer-reviewed journals. Previously, Sands was the Katherine Birck Professor of Nursing and the Director of Research for the School of Nursing at Purdue University. Sands holds a PhD, a master’s degree, and a bachelor’s degree from the University of California, Berkeley.