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Johnson and Buchanan Announce Joint Hearing on Social Security’s Representative Payee Program

January 31, 2017

WASHINGTON, D.C. – House Ways and Means Social Security Subcommittee Chairman Sam Johnson (R-TX) and Oversight Subcommittee Chairman Vern Buchanan (R-FL) today announced that the Subcommittees will hold a two-part joint hearing series on Social Security’s representative payee program, which helps certain individuals manage their benefits if the Social Security Administration (SSA) determines that they need assistance. The first hearing in the series, entitled “Examining the Social Security Administration’s Representative Payee Program: Determining Who Needs Help,” will take place on Tuesday, February 7, at 10:00 AM in room 1100 of the Longworth House Office Building. At the hearing, Members will examine how the SSA determines when an individual needs a representative payee to manage benefit payments on their behalf.

Upon announcing the hearing, Chairman Johnson said:

“Americans expect that when Social Security determines that someone needs help managing their benefits, the decision is the right one. Unfortunately, reports by the Institute of Medicine, the Office of the Inspector General, and others raise serious and troubling questions about how these decisions are made and these questions need to be addressed. This two-part hearing series will look at both sides of the representative payee program—the people who need help and the people who provide that help. I look forward to learning about ways Social Security can improve how it decides who needs help at next week’s hearing.” 

Chairman Buchanan said:

“Millions of people rely on the Social Security Administration to execute the agency’s benefit programs in a responsible and effective manner. However, the agency continues to face challenges—especially with the representative payee program. For years, concerns have been raised about the program’s ability to properly determine if beneficiaries are able to manage their own benefits. This hearing will help shed light on how the Social Security Administration can improve and better serve seniors and people with disabilities.” 

In cases where Social Security beneficiaries are not capable of managingor directing the management oftheir benefits, the SSA will assign a representative payee to manage the payments on the individual’s behalf. The SSA automatically assigns a representative payee to all child beneficiaries and individuals who are deemed legally incompetent by the courts. The SSA assumes that all other beneficiaries are able to manage their benefits, but will assess a beneficiary’s financial capability if there are signs that this may not be the case.

The SSA field office employees are responsible for performing capability determinations for adult beneficiaries and base their decisions on legal evidence, lay evidence, and medical evidence. Legal evidence is only required in cases where there is an allegation that the beneficiary is legally incompetent. When no legal determination has been made, lay evidence is required in all cases, while medical evidence is recommended but not required.

A number of organizations, including the Institute of Medicine (IOM), the SSA Office of the Inspector General (OIG), the Social Security Advisory Board (SSAB), and the SSA’s Office of Quality Review, have identified areas of concern with the representative payee capability determination process. These concerns generally fall into two categories:  concerns with the quality of the decisions being made about an individual’s capability and concerns with the SSA’s ability to identify all of the beneficiaries who need a representative payee.