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W&M Republicans: Action Needed to Ensure the Safety and Security of Social Security Beneficiaries

March 22, 2017

The Ways and Means Oversight and Social Security Subcommittees—chaired by Rep. Vern Buchanan (R-FL) and Rep. Sam Johnson (R-TX)—today held the second of two joint hearings examining the Social Security Administration’s (SSA) representative payee program.

Prior to today’s hearing, the SSA’s own watchdog, the Social Security Inspector General (IG), and stakeholders, such as the bipartisan Social Security Advisory Board, raised serious concerns with how the SSA selects and oversees the individuals serving as representative payees.

Social Security Subcommittee Chairman Johnson highlighted examples of people who shouldn’t be payees, but are:

“Commonsense would say that someone who relies on a representative payee themselves shouldn’t be the representative payee for someone else … In 2016, the IG found that Social Security had people serving as representative payees even though Social Security knew that these folks had representative payees of their own. The IG has even found people serving as representative payees that Social Security has no record of selecting.

“Worse, for nearly 20 years, the IG has repeatedly found that Social Security continued to pay payees that they knew were dead. And the list goes on. This is simply unacceptable.” 

Ways and Means Republicans also shared stories from across the country about bad actors who are taking advantage of the beneficiaries they were asked to serve. Oversight Subcommittee Chairman Buchanan gave one example:

“[The Hillsborough Achievement and Resource Centers] 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.”

Another problem plaguing the representative payee program is the SSA’s failure to conduct full criminal background checks for all individuals currently serving as a representative payee. The practice of running full criminal background checks for all new individual representative payees did not begin until 2014—over 75 years after the representative payee program was first created. And it is only for new or changing payees.

The lack of background checks prior to 2014 let Linda Weston, who served 8 years in prison for killing her sister’s boyfriend, become a representative payee. As Rep. Pat Meehan (R-PA) discussed:

“We’ve created a point in time in which checks only go back for representative payees—people have been grandfathered in. I had a circumstance in my own Philadelphia region. We had a woman by the name of Linda Weston who served as a representative payee for four separate individuals. Only later did they discover horrid circumstances, including abuse and other things that are part of that. So, what are we doing to check to assure that any kind of information related to a background of somebody who has already been grandfathered into the payee situation is kept current so that we don’t find a situation where somebody is abusing an individual?”

And once selected as a payee, the SSA’s monitoring program leaves much to be desired. Rep. Jackie Walorski (R-IN) questioned whether the SSA’s annual accounting form effectively identifies those who are misusing benefits:

“A bad actor could submit an accounting form with made up amounts, no supporting documentation, but as long as their numbers are close, they aren’t really flagged…A bad actor could maneuver through the system like that, correct?” 

It’s clear that the representative payee program is not working and more must be done. Ways and Means Members are working together on commonsense solutions to improve this important program so Social Security beneficiaries can trust the help they receive.

CLICK HERE to learn more about today’s joint hearing.

CLICK HERE to learn more about the first joint hearing.