The Social Security Act Amendments of 1939 authorized the Social Security Administration (SSA) to use a representative payee to receive benefit payments on behalf of a beneficiary or recipient when it is in the interest of the beneficiary or recipient. A payee may be a person or organization that is required to determine the needs of the beneficiary or recipient and use the individual’s payments to meet those needs. SSA performs three main functions regarding payees: the agency decides whether a beneficiary or adult Supplemtental Security Income (SSI) recipient needs a payee, selects a suitable payee to meet the beneficiary or recipient’s needs and provides oversight of the payee.
One of the most important activities of SSA is the designation and monitoring of representative payees (“payees”). SSA has found more than 8 million beneficiaries and recipients to be incapable of managing or directing the management of funds paid to them by SSA. For years, the Social Security Advisory Board (“Board”) heard concerns about the payee program; so, after releasing a call-to action in 2016 and holding a public forum in 2017, the Board released an in-depth review in January 2018, pressing for more analysis and providing recommendations to Congress, SSA and the Office of Management and Budget for improvements.1
This brief summarizes recent developments with respect to representative payees, including the April 2018 legislation, the Strengthening Protections for Social Security Beneficiaries Act of 2018,2 highlights major concerns addressed at the Board’s September 2018 policy forum and in its January 2019 comment in the Federal Register, and reports on ongoing Board work and continued concerns about the program.3
1 Social Security Advisory Board, Statement on the Supplemental Security Income Program, May 2010; Social Security Advisory Board, Representative Payees: A Call to Action, March 2016; Social Security Advisory Board, Joining Forces to Improve the Representative Payee Program, policy forum, March 27, 2017; Social Security Advisory Board, Improving Social Security’s Representative Payee Program, January 2018.
2 The Strengthening Protections for Social Security Beneficiaries Act of 2018, Public Law No. 115–165.
3 Social Security Advisory Board, Moving Forward—Implementing Changes in the Representative Payee Program, policy forum, September 7, 2018; Letter from Kim Hildred, Chair, Social Security Advisory Board to Nancy Berryhill, Acting Commissioner, Social Security Administration, Re: Notice and Comment on Review and Reassessment of the SSA’s Representative Payee Selection and Replacement Policies, 83 Fed. Reg. 64422 (December 14, 2018), January 28, 2019.