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Chairman Buchanan Opening Statement at Hearing on Social Security’s Representative Payee Program

February 07, 2017

WASHINGTON, D.C. – House Human Resources Subcommittee Chairman Vern Buchanan (R-FL) today delivered the following opening statement at a joint hearing between the Social Security and Oversight Subcommittees entitled “Examining the Social Security Administration’s Representative Payee Program: Determining Who Needs Help.”

Remarks as prepared for delivery:

“The Social Security Administration was created in 1935 with a special emphasis on supporting those considered to be of ‘old-age.’ More than eighty years later, the programs administered by the agency remain vitally important to seniors and people with disabilities. I represent Florida’s 16th Congressional district where there are nearly 224,000 people receiving social security benefits. Millions of people across the country rely on the Social Security Administration every day. It is imperative that the agency function with care and efficiency. 

“This is particularly true of the Representative Payee program. As was outlined by Chairman Johnson, the Representative Payee Program was designed to provide assistance to beneficiaries who need help managing their finances. However, the program faces challenges, not the least of which is the subject of today’s hearing—how to determine which beneficiaries need help.  

“With more than 8 million beneficiaries enrolled in the program already, clearly the agency has been successful in identifying some of the beneficiaries who need assistance. Yet research shows that only 9 percent of eligible people with dementia have a representative payee. That means that 91 percent do not. While not all may ultimately need a payee, there are real questions about how the agency identifies individuals who are at a higher risk of needing help managing their finances. And further, once a beneficiary has been identified as possibly needing help—what kind of evidence is the agency considering and what procedures is the agency undertaking to be certain that the best, most accurate determination is made. 

“Those challenges are unfortunately visible in my home state of Florida. In 2008, just north and east of my district, in Polk County, a court determined that a 76-year-old elderly adult needed a guardian. In 2013, the woman’s daughter and court-appointed guardian pled guilty to stealing more than $40,000 dollars from her own mother, who was an elderly adult with a disability. Exploiting an elderly person or a person with a disability is a second-degree felony. The woman was sentenced to 120 days in jail and three years of probation. She was also forced to repay the tens of thousands of dollars that she stole. While some might call this justice, I find myself wondering what could have been done to prevent this abuse. Is there some way that the exploitation of this senior citizen could have been stopped sooner? Or better yet, not have ever happened in the first place. 

“Now I cannot be certain that the elderly woman in Polk County was receiving social security benefits, but based on her age, she absolutely would have been eligible. If so, was the Social Security Administration aware that a judge had deemed this individual ‘totally incapacitated’? Was a representative payee appointed for the woman? Was the exploiting guardian designated as the representative payee? These are questions I do not know the answers to, but what I do know is that four years is too long for an elderly woman with a disability to be financially exploited. Whether it’s the Social Security Administration or the state guardianship program, someone should have intervened much sooner.

“As the Subcommittee Chairman for Oversight, I believe it is our responsibility to stay vigilant. While I am encouraged by the testimony and reports I have reviewed showing that the Social Security Administration is taking some steps to strengthen the Representative Payee program, challenges continue to confront the agency and we must keep working to find solutions. I look forward to listening to our witnesses and learning how we can improve the Social Security Agency to the benefit of all seniors and people with disabilities.”