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Chairman Buchanan Opening Statement at Second Joint Oversight and Social Security Hearing on Social Security’s Representative Payee Program

March 22, 2017

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

Remarks as prepared for delivery:

“During our last hearing on this topic, we examined how the Social Security Administration determines when someone needs a representative payee. Today we are examining how SSA oversees these payees. While SSA has made some recent efforts to improve how it monitors the more than 6.5 million payees in the program, I believe that there is still significant room for improvement.

“Historically, SSA has relied on annual accounting forms and conducted limited onsite reviews. In 2004, Congress strengthened SSA’s monitoring efforts by requiring additional mandatory onsite reviews for some payees.

“In addition, SSA uses a predictive model to identify high risk payees for discretionary reviews. SSA recently selected a new contractor to annually conduct 5,000 discretionary onsite reviews, almost double the 2,590 conducted last year. However, the number of overall visits appears to be far too few to effectively oversee the millions of payees in this program or to assess the adequacy of the model.

“Other concerns have also been raised by the Agency’s watchdogs, such as the SSA Inspector General, who continues to uncover example after example of payees taking advantage of beneficiaries. One such example comes from my home state of Florida. The Hillsborough Achievement and Resource Centers (HARC), a non-profit serving the greater Tampa area, was established to assist Floridians with developmental disabilities. HARC served as representative payees for Social Security beneficiaries who needed help managing their finances; however, between 2001 and 2011, HARC employees diverted over $600,000 in Social Security benefits, using them for their own personal gains. HARC employees also annually filed fraudulent accounting reports with SSA to conceal their actions. A victim’s relative noted to our local NBC news station that ‘if it hadn’t been for your reporting, WFLA’s reporting, and also the efforts of the U.S. attorney, probably nothing would have taken place.’ 

“And while this example is particularly concerning because it occurred in my local community, similar stories exist across the country. Stories such as this raise serious questions about where was SSA for the decade when this fraud was occurring? Unless SSA improves its program monitoring, I worry that these problems will only worsen as the population ages and the number of individuals who need payees increases.

“Nevertheless, I am encouraged by some of the progress being made through state programs. We have a number of witnesses here today to speak to the unique and innovative approaches that states are taking in the area of guardianships, much of which may be applicable to the representative payee program. I also look forward to hearing from SSA about ways in which Congress can assist you in better administering and overseeing this program.

“I again want to thank the witnesses for being here today and I look forward to your testimonies on this important topic.”