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

February 07, 2017

WASHINGTON, D.C. – House Social Security Subcommittee Chairman Sam Johnson (R-TX) 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:

“Good morning and welcome to the first of two joint Social Security and Oversight hearings on Social Security’s representative payee program.

“In 1939, Congress first authorized Social Security to make benefit payments to another person or organization when it was in the best interest of the beneficiary. The last time Congress made changes to the representative payee program was in 2004 through the Social Security Protection Act. This law increased the oversight of representative payees.

“I believe it’s now time to take a fresh look. This two part hearing series seeks to answer the following questions: 

  • Is Social Security’s representative payee program working the way it should?
  • How is Social Security improving the program to meet today’s challenges?
  • Are there changes we should make to ensure that Social Security provides the service Americans expect and deserve?

“The Social Security Administration will be here for both hearings – helping us to understand the agency’s management of the representative payee program, including the challenges it faces. After the two hearings, I want Social Security to send us a report that covers:

  1. the challenges facing the agency,
  2. the improvements Social Security will make, and
  3. what legislative changes Social Security needs.

“We all need to work together to make sure the representative payee program meets today’s challenges. It’s too important not to get it right.

“Today’s hearing will focus on those who need help and the process Social Security uses to identify them.  

“About 9% of those receiving Social Security benefits get help from a representative payee to manage their benefits. That may not sound like a lot but with a program of Social Security’s size, this means about 5.5 million people have a representative payee. And this doesn’t include those receiving Supplemental Security Income who also have a representative payee.

“Many folks have a representative payee. For example, children receiving benefits must have a representative payee, as do those who have been declared legally incompetent by a court. But others may need help as well. They – or a loved one – may tell Social Security that they need help. Or a Social Security employee may notice that the individual could use help managing their benefits. In this case, Social Security conducts what’s called a ‘capability determination’ to see if the person needs a representative payee.

“Social Security field office employees make this decision by reviewing lay evidence and medical evidence. While medical evidence is part of the process, lay evidence is meant to be the deciding factor. Lay evidence is anything other than legal or medical evidence that provides information about whether someone can manage their money. This could be a statement from a family member, friend, or someone else who knows the person well.  

“Deciding who needs help managing benefits is an important responsibility, and Social Security has to get it right. However, as we will hear today the Institute of Medicine, the Social Security Inspector General, and Social Security itself have all raised some serious questions about how the representative payee program works.  

“Of serious concern is that Social Security employees routinely fail to follow Social Security’s instructions for completing a capability determination. According to a June 2015 Social Security study, more than 70 percent of cases reviewed did not have a documented capability determination. And over 40 percent of the cases were missing lay evidence even though lay evidence is required. It’s hard to be sure if decisions that are being made are the right ones when evidence is missing.

“Social Security also does not have a way to see if someone’s ability to manage their benefits has changed over time. Just because someone doesn’t need a representative payee when they first claim benefits doesn’t mean that they won’t need help 20 years down the road. But unless the person comes to Social Security and says ‘I now need help,’ it’s hard for them to figure it out.  

“Today we will hear about what Social Security is doing to move in the right direction. We can all agree that the American people deserve better, and Social Security must take this responsibility seriously.

“I thank our witnesses for being here today and I look forward to hearing their testimony.”