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Johnson Remarks at the Social Security Advisory Board’s Policy Forum on the Representative Payee Program

March 27, 2017

WASHINGTON, D.C. – House Ways and Means Social Security Subcommittee Chairman Sam Johnson (R-TX) today delivered the following remarks at the Social Security Advisory Board’s policy forum examining the representative payee program.

Chairman Johnson’s remarks follow a two-part hearing series led by the Ways and Means Social Security and Oversight Subcommittees to examine the representative payee program. The hearings focused on:

  1. How the Social Security Administration determines who needs help
  2. How the Social Security Administration determines who provides help

Remarks as prepared for delivery

“Good morning! And thank you for attending today’s event. I wish I could be there with you in person, but please know I am there with you in spirit. I also want to share some thoughts with you on today’s topic: the representative payee program, which was established in 1939. The last time this program was updated was 13 years ago.  

“As you may know, approximately 12% of folks who receive Social Security benefits use a representative payee to manage their benefits – that’s about 8 million people.  

“And as the GAO pointed out back 2013, as the Baby Boomers get older, the number of people needing a representative payee will continue to grow.

“Because it’s up to Social Security to decide if someone needs a representative payee, they have to get it right. Social Security’s decision has real consequences and affects people’s independence. We need to ensure Social Security isn’t assigning a representative payee when it’s not necessary. We also need to look at how Social Security works with other organizations, like state courts, who make similar decisions. Right now, Social Security may not always know if someone is already serving in a payee-type role, such as a power of attorney.   

“Social Security also has an important responsibility to monitor payees.

“Sadly, there have been payees who take advantage of the very people they are supposed to be helping. One of the most horrific examples is Linda Weston.

“For years, the beneficiaries who had Linda Weston as a representative payee were abused by her. They were beaten; held captive in locked closets, basements, and attics; and moved between states so they couldn’t be found. And while this level of cruelty is rare (as far as we know), it is inexcusable. 

“This particular case hits a personal note for me. As a former POW in the infamous Hanoi Hilton, I know firsthand what it’s liked to be locked up, beaten, and to receive no medical care. My POW buddies and I fought and endured these conditions so others wouldn’t have to.

“Needless to say, there is clearly room for improvement in the representative payee program.

“I believe it’s time to take a fresh look. The Ways and Means Committee has just finished a two-part hearing series that focused on the following questions: 

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

“During today’s event, I hope you consider these same questions and that you’ll share your thoughts with me.

“Please also know that I’ve asked Social Security to send Congress a report that examines the challenges it faces, the changes it’s making to the program, and what legislative changes are needed.  

“I want to thank the Social Security Advisory Board for holding today’s event. 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.  

“God bless you, and God bless America. I salute you.”