Disability Rights of West Virginia
Representative Payee Program for Beneficiaries of Social Security
Article by Michael Schwartz, DRWV Advocate
While most people receive their Social Security and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) payments directly, some need assistance in managing their benefits. Payments to these individuals are paid through a representative payee who receives the check on behalf of the beneficiary and provides for their personal needs. The SSA.gov website states: “Social Security's Representative Payment Program provides benefit payment management for our beneficiaries who are incapable of managing their Social Security or Supplemental Security Income (SSI) payments. We appoint a suitable representative payee (payee) who manages the payments on behalf of the beneficiaries. Generally, we look for family or friends to serve as payees. When friends or family members are not able to serve as payees, we look for qualified organizations. We also offer the option to advance designate up to three individuals who could serve as payee for you if the need arises”.
The Representative Payee Program was initiated in 1939 when Congress authorized the Social Security Administration to make benefit payments to an authorized person or organization when it was in the best interest of the beneficiary. There have been several improvements and revisions to the program since its inception to ensure that the program and appointments are not abused. To determine if a representative payee is needed, SSA completes an assessment, or one is automatically assigned for children or individuals determined to be found incompetent by a court. SSA will also evaluate the suitability of the payee for appointing them to manage a beneficiary’s funds. Representative Payees can be family, friends, legal guardians, or organizations.
Monitoring of Representative Payees
The SSA primarily relies on annual accounting reports and periodic on-site reviews to monitor the performance of representative payees and ensure benefits are being used properly. The Social Security Act requires on-site reviews for certain organizational and individual payees, and the SSA conducts additional discretionary reviews of other payees. There has also been the inclusion of the local P&A to conduct monitoring on behalf of SSA. The P&As conduct educational visits for new fee-for-service payee organizations, issue corrective action plans for payees not in compliance with the SSA’s requirements and refer beneficiaries to other programs and services as warranted. Both organizational and individual payees are subject to the reviews. P&A reviewers will also be looking at the beneficiaries general health, well-being, and living conditions to ensure that the needs are being met by the representative payee and the expenses paid on their behalf.
Responsibilities of Representative Payees
The primary duty of the representative payee is to ensure that the beneficiary’s food, shelter, and everyday needs are met. Representative payees, secondly, are responsible for using funds to cover any medical and dental care that is not covered by the individual’s health insurance. Representative payees should act in the best interest of the beneficiary in the management of the funds. There must be a focus on the current and foreseeable needs of the beneficiary.
Records are maintained to account for expenses, and the representative payee should report any changes in information for the beneficiary that a required. This would include changes in address, eligibility, marital status, additional income received or any other events that could potentially effect benefits. Meetings should be conducted frequently with beneficiaries to create budgets, review spending, and provide information on benefits. Rep payees should also assist with obtaining other services to assist with needed services that include food stamps, tax returns, and applications for services needed to assist in meeting needs. Keep in mind that representative payees are only responsible for managing funds received from Social Security or SSI. They are not authorized to control additional forms of income.
All information contained in this article can be found at ssa.gov. If you would like additional information on the representative payee program or if you are having issues with a current representative payee, please contact SSA at 1-800-772-1213 (TTY 1-800-325-0778) to request an appointment to discuss your concerns or Disability Rights of West Virginia at 1-800-950-5250.