Hearing on How Social Security Protects the Benefits of Those Who Cannot Protect Themselves

June 5, 2013 — Transcripts   



Hearing on How Social Security Protects the Benefits of Those Who Cannot Protect Themselves

_____________________________________

HEARING

BEFORE THE

SUBCOMMITTEE ON SOCIAL SECURITY

OF THE

COMMITTEE ON WAYS AND MEANS

U.S. HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES

ONE HUNDRED THIRTEENTH CONGRESS

FIRST SESSION
________________________

June 5, 2013
__________________

SERIAL 113-SS6
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Printed for the use of the Committee on Ways and Means

COMMITTEE ON WAYS AND MEANS
DAVE CAMP, Michigan,Chairman

SAM JOHNSON, Texas
KEVIN BRADY, Texas
PAUL RYAN, Wisconsin
DEVIN NUNES, California
PATRICK J. TIBERI, Ohio
DAVID G. REICHERT, Washington
CHARLES W. BOUSTANY, JR., Louisiana
PETER J. ROSKAM, Illinois
JIM GERLACH, Pennsylvania
TOM PRICE, Georgia
VERN BUCHANAN, Florida
ADRIAN SMITH, Nebraska
AARON SCHOCK, Illinois
LYNN JENKINS, Kansas
ERIK PAULSEN, Minnesota
KENNY MARCHANT, Texas
DIANE BLACK, Tennessee
TOM REED, New York
TODD YOUNG, Indiana
MIKE KELLY, Pennsylvania
TIM GRIFFIN, Arkansas
JIM RENACCI, Ohio

SANDER M. LEVIN, Michigan
CHARLES B. RANGEL, New York
JIM MCDERMOTT, Washington
JOHN LEWIS, Georgia
RICHARD E. NEAL, Massachusetts
XAVIER BECERRA, California
LLOYD DOGGETT, Texas
MIKE THOMPSON, California
JOHN B. LARSON, Connecticut
EARL BLUMENAUER, Oregon
RON KIND, Wisconsin
BILL PASCRELL, JR., New Jersey
JOSEPH CROWLEY, New York
ALLYSON SCHWARTZ, Pennsylvania
DANNY DAVIS, Illinois
LINDA SÁNCHEZ, California

JENNIFER M. SAFAVIAN, Staff Director and General Counsel
JANICE MAYS, Minority Chief Counsel

   

SUBCOMMITTEE ON HUMAN RESOURCES
SAM JOHNSON, Texas, Chairman

PATRICK J. TIBERI, Ohio
TIM GRIFFIN, Arkansas
JIM RENACCI, Ohio
AARON SCHOCK, Illinois
MIKE KELLY, Pennsylvania
KEVIN BRADY, Texas

XAVIER BECERRA, California
LLOYD DOGGETT, Texas
MIKE THOMPSON, California
ALLYSON SCHWARTZ, Pennsylvania

 

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CONTENTS

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Advisory of June 5, 2013 announcing the hearing


WITNESSES

Daniel Bertoni
Director, Education, Workforce, and Income Security, GovernmentAccountability Office
Testimony

LaTina Burse Greene
Assistant Deputy Commissioner for Retirement and Disability Policy, Social Security Administration
Testimony

Elmer L. Cerano
Executive Director, Michigan Protection & Advocacy Service, on behalf of the National Disability Rights Network
Testimony


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Hearing on How Social Security Protects the Benefits of Those Who Cannot Protect Themselves

Wednesday, June 5, 2013
U.S. House of Representatives, 
Committee on Ways and Means, 
Washington, D.C. 

____________________

     The subcommittee met, pursuant to notice, at 10:04 a.m., in Room B‑318, Rayburn House Office Building, Hon. Sam Johnson [chairman of the subcommittee] presiding.

 [The advisory of the hearing follows:]

 

_________________________________________________________________

     *Chairman Johnson.  Good morning.  Thank you all for being here.  Today the subcommittee is going to examine how Social Security protects the benefits of those who can’t protect themselves.  About 14 percent of those receiving Social Security or Supplemental Security Income benefits need someone to manage their payments.  Those are our most vulnerable, including children and those who are mentally or physically incapable of managing their benefits.

     Most often payees, known as representative payees, are family members, often a parent or a spouse.  However, they can be a friend or a qualified organization, such as a social service agency or a nursing home.  Sadly, there are payees who take advantage, sometimes in horrific ways, of the very people they are supposed to protect.

     In January of this year, the Justice Department announced that Linda Weston, her daughter, and three co‑defendants were charged in a 193‑count indictment with crimes including murder, racketeering, hate crimes, and sex trafficking.  According to the indictment, Weston persuaded each victim to make her the payee for their Social Security payments in exchange for promise of a place to live.  Weston, aided by the co‑defendants, subjected the victims to inhumane living conditions, including beating the victims, holding them captive in locked closets, basements, and attics, and moving the victims between states to avoid detection.

     The indictment alleges that the use of these techniques caused two of the victims to die, while the others were abused for years until October 2011, when the Philadelphia police rescued them from the sub‑basement of an apartment building.  The perpetrators of these crimes are in jail awaiting trial.  As a former prisoner of war, I am telling you torture can quickly mangle your body and slowly destroy your soul.  I lived through what could only be called hell on earth for nearly seven years, and your health and safety is of no interest to your captors in that situation.  And it breaks my heart to know the terrors these innocent folks endured right here at home in the United States.

     While this level of cruelty from what we know is rare, it is inexcusable and intolerable.  Soon after these crimes became public, members of this Committee asked the Government Accountability Office to examine Social Security’s representative payee program.  GAO is releasing this very important report today, and Mr. Bertoni is here to tell us about it.

     Today there are almost six million representative payees who manage $72 billion in benefits each year for 8.4 million beneficiaries.  Over the past 10 years, the number of people needing a representative payee has grown by 20 percent, and will only continue to grow as people live longer.  According to the Alzheimer’s Association, by 2025 the number of people affected by Alzheimer’s will increase by 40 percent to reach over 7 million.

     And Congress last looked at the challenges facing the representative payee program when it passed the Social Security Protection Act of 2004, and strengthened the protections against misuse.  The Weston case illustrates the importance of finding the right payee in the first place, and the importance of effective oversight.  Clearly, Social Security must do better.  The Agency must rise to the challenge of doing what is right to protect the benefits of those who cannot protect themselves.

     I thank our witnesses for being here today, and I look forward to hearing your testimony.  I now recognize the ranking member, Mr. Becerra, for his opening statement.

     *Mr. Becerra.  Thank you, Mr. Chairman.  And this is an extremely important hearing, and I thank you for holding it.

     Social Security has done a job for all Americans, and it has done it well for over 77 years:  paying Americans their earned benefits on time and in full.  So it is easy to forget what a big, important, and complicated job the Social Security Administration has, and the work it does for so many Americans who rely on their benefits to be able to live in dignity.

     The horrific cases of children and vulnerable adults being abused and victimized by the very people who were entrusted with those individuals’ Social Security benefits serve as a reminder that Americans pay the price if Congress doesn’t provide the leadership and the resources needed to get it right.

     Social Security benefits currently keep more than 21 million Americans out of poverty, including more than a million children.  About 15 percent, as the chairman mentioned, of those current Social Security beneficiaries, some 8.5 million people, have representative payees who collect that Social Security benefit for them.  While most payees do a good job ‑‑ and we are going to hear some heinous cases ‑‑ but 8.5 million people have representative payees.  We are not talking about 8.5 million people being abused and victimized.  But there are clearly cases where there is that victimization occurring.

     So, most of these representative payees do a good job.  But when they don’t, there are devastating consequences.  Misuse of benefits by a payee is often part of an overall pattern of abuse and mistreatment.  A quick example, an extremely disturbing case in Philadelphia involved not only the misuse of Social Security benefits, but imprisonment, slavery, physical abuse, and the death of adults with mental disabilities.  Misuse of Social Security is not the only problem in these situations.  But the fact that the abuse was committed by someone who had been entrusted with the victim’s Social Security benefits made the cases even more horrifying.

     Social Security cannot, by itself, protect individuals from such predators.  But, given the right resources and adequate staff, Social Security can partner with protective services and other community organizations who are charged with detecting, stopping, and preventing abuse of adults and children — both to protect the Social Security benefits that have been earned, and because the assignment of a representative payee is an opportunity to discover some of these abusive situations.

     In recent years, SSA has begun to work more with the state protection and advocacy agencies who have deep expertise in this area, and have been very helpful in monitoring representative payees and advocating for beneficiaries.  But clearly we need to do much more, particularly as our older population gets older, and more and more people join the ranks of the aged.  We have to fix the policies and provide the resources now, because the challenges of protecting vulnerable Americans will only grow, as I said, as our population ages.

     In the coming years, a larger share of seniors will be over 80 years of age, ages at which they are both more likely to depend on Social Security, and more likely to need help managing their benefits.  While policies matter, you get what you pay for.  There is no substitute for providing SSA with the staff and resources it needs to recruit, train, and monitor the representative payees being trusted with other people’s Social Security checks.

     A series of budget cuts and the sequester mean SSA’s budget is about $800 million lower this year than it was in 2010, even though the number of Americans Social Security is serving now has continued to grow.  SSA’s employees have worked harder, faster, and smarter in every way they can, and have tried heroically to shield Americans from the effects of these cuts.  But even with their efforts, the budget cuts have forced SSA to institute a hiring freeze at local Social Security offices, and have all but eliminated their staff training budget.  These local offices have the primary responsibility for finding, assigning, and monitoring representative payees.

     SSA estimates that this year its backlog of work relating to ensuring timely and accurate payments to current beneficiaries, which includes monitoring representative payees, will reach 7,500 work years.  That is, SSA would need to have 7,500 additional employees on staff working all year long, in order to complete all of the backlog work.  These types of budget cuts can particularly be harmful to some of the most vulnerable Americans, those who require assistance managing their benefits.

     While we can and should look at policies to see if we can improve them, there is no substitute for providing the resources necessary so that SSA can effectively do its part to protect our most vulnerable Americans.

     Mr. Chairman, Social Security’s representative payee program is just a small piece of the safety net needed to protect some of our most vulnerable Americans.  It is just one of the vitally important things our government does and needs to do well.  Thank you for holding this hearing so that the problem is clearly laid out.  I look forward to the testimony of our witnesses and, together, working on this Committee, trying to make sure that every American receives the benefits he or she earned.  Thank you.

     *Chairman Johnson.  Thank you.  And that they are protected.

     As is customary, any Member is welcome to submit a statement for the hearing record.

     Before we move on to our testimony, I want to remind our witnesses to try to limit your oral testimony to five minutes.  Without objection, all the written testimony will be made part of the hearing record.

     We have one witness panel today.  Seated at the table are Daniel Bertoni, Director, Education, Workforce, and Income Security, Governmental Accountability Office.  He is the cop.

     [Laughter.]

     *Chairman Johnson.  LaTina Burse Greene.  Did I say that correctly?

     *Ms. Burse Greene.  That is correct.

     *Chairman Johnson.  Assistant Deputy Commissioner For Retirement and Disability Policy, Social Security Administration.  Elmer Cerano, Executive Director, Michigan Protection and Advocacy Service, on behalf of the National Disability Rights Network.

     Mr. Bertoni, welcome aboard, and thanks for being here again. Please go ahead with your testimony.

STATEMENT OF DANIEL BERTONI, DIRECTOR, EDUCATION, WORKFORCE, AND INCOME SECURITY, GOVERNMENT ACCOUNTABILITY OFFICE

     *Mr. Bertoni.  Mr. Chairman, Ranking Member Becerra, members of the subcommittee, good morning.  I am pleased to discuss our work on Social Security Administration’s representative payee program, which plays an important role in ensuring that the needs of the most vulnerable Social Security beneficiaries are met.

     Last year, nearly six million SSA‑appointed payees managed $72 billion in benefits for over 8 million individuals.  And the program is poised to grow further as the population ages.

     My remarks are based on our report issued today that discussed the current and long‑term challenges facing the program, and steps the Agency has taken or could take to address them.

     In summary, SSA struggles to effectively administer the rep payee program, despite efforts to address challenges with identifying, selecting, and monitoring payees.  For example, due to increasing workloads and staff attrition, field office managers frequently have to perform duties that lower‑level staff typically handle, such as processing initial payee applications.  In addition, SSA has experienced difficulties identifying payees for an increasing number of beneficiaries with mental health conditions and those who are aged and don’t have a payee readily available.

     Unfortunately, actions the Agency has taken to date to identify and recruit additional payees have yielded little results.  SSA also faces challenges in ensuring that those who are selected as payees are of good character and suitable for the task.  To address this challenge, SSA is piloting an initiative to screen and potentially block payee applicants who have been convicted of certain crimes, such as kidnaping, financial fraud, forgery, and identity theft.  However, at the time of our review, the pilot relied on applicants to self‑report this information, and SSA lacked plans to evaluate its effectiveness in preventing program abuses.  We have recommended that SSA conduct such an evaluation, and the Agency has concurred.

     SSA also faces challenges in monitoring rep payees’ use of beneficiary’s funds, which is time‑consuming and often requires staff to follow up on accounting reports via multiple mailings, telephone calls, and even face‑to‑face meetings.  To better leverage its resources, the Agency has taken steps to streamline this process by allowing payees to submit online records ‑‑ reports.  SSA has also adopted a risk‑based, electronic approach for some of its other reviews to better target those payees with a higher likelihood of misusing benefits.

     Despite these efforts, changing demographics and a likely steep increase in the number of beneficiaries who may need rep payees in the future will further strain program operations.  However, to date, SSA has done little to position itself to address this challenge.  Specifically, SSA has not taken steps to project the future need for payees, the likely characteristics of beneficiaries, or the resources that will be needed to administer the program.  In our report we recommended that SSA conduct such analyses, and SSA has agreed to develop additional data.

     And finally, to address growing demands for the work, we consulted with various experts in identifying additional options SSA could consider to increase its pool of rep payees and better target its monitoring activities.  Such options include permitting a broader range of organizations to collect fees for serving as a payee, reducing monitoring requirements for custodial parents, and enhancing coordination with other state and local organizations that serve similar populations.  However, experts and other stakeholders identified trade‑offs for each, mostly related to balancing SSA’s desire to streamline and simplify the program with the need to protect beneficiaries from abuse.

     SSA has acknowledged that changes to the rep payee program are needed, and has considered some options.  However, the Agency has not fully assessed their potential benefits, costs, and feasibility of implementation.  Given the magnitude of the workload challenges associated with the rep payee program, we have recommended that SSA develop and test a range of alternatives to streamline and improve the program for the long term.  The Agency concurred with our recommendation.  We look forward to working with them as they proceed in this regard.

     Mr. Chairman, this concludes my statement.  I am happy to answer questions that you or other members of the subcommittee may have.  Thank you.

     [The statement of Mr. Bertoni follows:]

     *Chairman Johnson.  Thank you.  Did you go to Pennsylvania and talk to them?

     *Mr. Bertoni.  I did.

     *Chairman Johnson.  Thank you.

     Ms. Greene, you are recognized.

STATEMENT OF LATINA BURSE GREENE, ASSISTANT DEPUTY COMMISSIONER FOR RETIREMENT AND DISABILITY POLICY, SOCIAL SECURITY ADMINISTRATION

     *Ms. Burse Greene.  Chairman Johnson, Ranking Member Becerra, and members of the subcommittee, thank you for inviting me to discuss the Social Security Administration’s representative payee program.  I am LaTina Burse Greene, Social Security’s Assistant Deputy Commissioner for Retirement and Disability Policy.

     Early on, Congress recognized that some beneficiaries were incapable of managing their benefits, and directed us to appoint representative payees to receive and manage benefits for them.  Today, around 5.9 million representative payees manage $72 billion annually for 8.4 million beneficiaries.  Just over half of these beneficiaries are minor children.

     Mr. Chairman, you are absolutely correct that we must do better, and we are committed to doing everything we can to ensure that we select a responsible representative payee who will use benefit payments for the beneficiaries’ best interests.

     Let me emphasize that in most cases representative payees serve their beneficiaries well and without incident.  Yet we continue to expand our risk‑based approach to improve the ways in which we identify, select, and monitor payees.  We have implemented several initiatives to advance the payee program, including the majority of the National Academy of Sciences’ 2007 recommendations.

     When selecting payees, we evaluate an applicant’s qualifications, including the applicant’s relationship to and concern for the beneficiary.  In addition, we look for any factors that could disqualify a person from serving as a payee.  For example, a person who has committed Social Security fraud may not be a payee.

     We continue to advance the strength of our selection process.  For instance, we are piloting a new policy in our Philadelphia region that prevents applicants who have been convicted of certain serious crimes from ever serving as a payee.  Later this month we will expand the pilot in the Philadelphia region to include use of an electronic system to obtain criminal information on payee applicants.

     When monitoring payees, we look for assurances that a payee is performing adequately, and we perform our monitoring activities using several methods.

     First, most representative payees submit an annual accounting report listing how they used benefit payments.  Payees can complete and submit the form on the Internet.  We have reviewed those payees who provide questionable responses, or do not respond.

     Secondly, we conduct periodic on‑site reviews of state mental institution payees, organizational payees serving more than 50 beneficiaries, and individual payees who serve more than 15 beneficiaries.  For payees that do not fall into these categories, we perform targeted reviews.  To this end, we have developed misuse predictive models that select payees for review who have characteristics indicating a higher likelihood of potential funds misuse.

     Third, we contract with third parties like the National Disability Rights Network to help us review payees who serve large numbers of beneficiaries, have complex records, and whom we suspect are misusing funds.

     And last, we have developed an online misuse tracking system that allows our field office employees to track all allegations of misuse, from the initial contact to a formal misuse determination.  The system also tracks our progress in collecting misused funds from payees.  And although we have done much to improve the program, we continue to work closely with our partners at the GAO and OIG.  They have made several suggestions for improving our representative payee program.

     As an example, GAO’s report cites the growing number of people who may need payees in the future.  To address that, our researchers will estimate the future number and characteristics of people in need of payees, and will use the data to inform our long‑term strategic thinking.  Recently we established a Representative Payee Strategic Team to facilitate and advance our strategic approach to improve how we administer the payee program, including further exploring options recommended by GAO and others.  And we will also work with the Administrative Conference of the United States to evaluate state guardianship practices, and whether it would be appropriate and practical for us to share data with state entities.

     And finally, we need your help to maintain and improve the payee program.  GAO and others have proposed sensible policy changes that would require legislation.  Also, we need sustained, adequate funding to implement many of the suggested proposals.  Like our other important workloads, we must rely primarily on trained, dedicated employees to interview and monitor the millions of persons who serve as payees.

     Again, thank you for inviting me to testify, and I am happy to answer any questions you may have.

     [The statement of Ms. Burse Greene follows:]

     *Chairman Johnson.  Thank you for being here.

     Mr. Cerano, welcome.  Please go ahead.

STATEMENT OF ELMER L. CERANO, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, MICHIGAN PROTECTION AND ADVOCACY SERVICE, ON BEHALF OF THE NATIONAL DISABILITY RIGHTS NETWORK 

     *Mr. Cerano.  Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman, and thank you for the committee ‑‑ to the committee for this opportunity to present.  I am Elmer Cerano, the executive director of the Michigan Protection and Advocacy Service, and I am also on the board and serve as the treasurer of the National Disability Rights Network, NDRN.

     NDRN is a nationwide organization that is made up of the protection and advocacy systems from every state, the U.S. territories, as well as the District of Columbia and the Native American tribes.  The protection and advocacy systems were mandated by Congress in 1975, and we have been working very hard ever since.

     I have been working with the beneficiaries of Social Security since the early 1970s, with the ARC of Maryland, with the United Cerebral Palsy Association of Detroit, with the Pennsylvania protection and advocacy system, Michigan protection and advocacy system, and I also have served on the board of NISH for the last 19 years, and currently serve as the immediate past chair of that organization.

     I am here to testify on behalf of the beneficiaries of Social Security who have representative payees, and on the important work that is done by the P&A networks, protection and advocacy networks, around the country related to resolving problems of abuse, neglect, and exploitation by representative payees.

     My written testimony has a lot more detail than what I will do verbally, but I do want to highlight two specific issues.  One is the need to expand the monitoring capacity, and the other is more in‑depth recruitment and intensified and vigorous training for representative payees.

     Over the years I have seen many examples of representative payees that are simply not working in the best interests of their beneficiaries.  And these representative payees come from nonprofit organizations, friends, guardians, family members, and even parents.  In other words, there is no one type of representative payee that ensures integrity.  We have seen both problems and heroes in all of those classifications.  This is why the effective monitoring and recruiting and training are absolutely essential.

     In 2009, the Social Security Administration found 32 men who were working at the Henry’s Turkey Farm in Iowa that were living in horrendous conditions.  The turkey farm was also the employer and the rep payee for all 32 men.  Social Security, to their credit, very quickly responded to the situation at the turkey farm and recognized the independent and unique nationwide reach of NDRN to assist in the process of protecting others from such types of exploitation.

     Social Security contracted with NDRN and its national network of protection and advocacy services to monitor the representative payees.  And, as of last March this current year, there were ‑‑ over 7,000 beneficiaries have been interviewed, and over 1,500 rep payees have been ‑‑ reviews have been conducted in group homes, in board and care homes, in nursing facilities, in governmental agencies, in disability service organizations, and in sheltered workshops.  It quickly became evident that many representative payees try very hard to follow the rules.  However, many others do not.

     After the reviews are done by the protection and advocacy service, we do send the information to Social Security Administration for their follow‑up.  The P&A’s also do follow‑up investigations on problems that are noted during the reviews and their visits.  We find issues related to living conditions, eligibility for other services, access to services, and so on, that we do follow up on.

     The major areas of concern that we find are improper accounting of funds, the commingling of funds into operating accounts, the poor or non‑exist fiscal record‑keeping, and the lack of receipts for expenditures.  The representative payees tell us that they need more training on the rights of beneficiaries.  Well, that is what we do.  We do training.  We need to figure out ways to decrease the incidents where they simply say, “We didn’t know the rules” that lead to some of these questionable practices.  We need to expand the pool of vetted, trained, representative payees from which the beneficiary can make a selection and have some choices as to who they want as their rep payee.  We need better coordination between federal agencies to enhance the protection of rights for beneficiaries of Social Security:  Department of Labor, the Veterans Administration, the U.S. Justice Department.

     I also recommend that the custodial parent should still be required to file to become a representative payee, and that they still be required to file financial reports annually.

     Thank you very much.  I will be happy to answer any questions that you may have.

     [The statement of Mr. Cerano follows:]

     *Chairman Johnson.  Thank you, sir.  We need some better rules here in the House, too, maybe.

     Ms. Greene,  how long you been with the service, Social Security?

     *Ms. Burse Greene.  Approximately 20 years.

     *Chairman Johnson.  Okay.  Why did Social Security pick Wilkes Barre to handle this kind of situation?

     *Ms. Burse Greene.  Handle ‑‑ I am sorry.  You mean the accounting?

     *Chairman Johnson.  Yes.  Everything goes through Wilkes Barre, does it not?

     *Ms. Burse Greene.  All of the accounting forms go through the Wilkes Barre data center.  And so ‑‑

     *Chairman Johnson.  Why?  I mean you all keep asking for more people, and more ‑‑

     *Ms. Burse Greene.  So initially ‑‑ thank you.  So initially, when we receive the accounting forms, they are submitted to us by paper.  Although the forms ‑‑

     *Chairman Johnson.  To Baltimore or to Wilkes Barre?

     *Ms. Burse Greene.  To Wilkes Barre.  To Wilkes Barre.

     *Chairman Johnson.  Okay.

     *Ms. Burse Greene.  So, when those paper forms are submitted to us in paper form, we have a very robust scanning operation in the Wilkes Barre data center.  And so, those forms are then scanned into the system.  And the system does an electronic review of the forms.

     *Chairman Johnson.  You don’t have that capability in headquarters?

     *Ms. Burse Greene.  We do not have that capability in headquarters.  That is correct.

     Now, remember the folks in Wilkes Barre are performing a clerical function for us.  Again, they are merely scanning the forms in.  And, as the system does its electronic review, the system generates alerts.  Okay?  And alerts come in two forms.  Either the alerts are generated when individuals have not responded to our request for the annual accounting form ‑‑ and the individuals in Wilkes Barre will make telephone calls or attempt to contact those individuals who have not responded.

     But then the system also generates exceptions when, in fact, there are questionable responses to the form.  Those responses could come in the form of, you know, there may be some anomalies in terms of what was reported in the past versus what is being reported for this particular accounting year.  And in those situations, those cases are then sent out to the field, so that the field can then handle all of those exceptions.  So the exceptions and the interactions with the payees are not done necessarily at the Wilkes Barre data center.  They perform primarily a clerical function.

     And so, going back to your point as to why we need the resources, we need the resources primarily because we have to make capability determinations for all ‑‑

     *Chairman Johnson.  Yes, I understand that part of it.  What I want to know is why it didn’t happen in headquarters instead of Wilkes Barre.  Can you all do that at headquarters?

     *Ms. Burse Greene.  We do not have a robust scanning operation to receive all of the accounting forms that we receive.

     Now, if you are referring to the Weston case, and what went wrong ‑‑ are you referring to the Weston case, trying to figure out ‑‑

     *Chairman Johnson.  All of them.

     *Ms. Burse Greene.  Okay.  Well, the reality of it is that whenever there are ‑‑ we receive applications to serve as a representative payee, that applicant undergoes a face‑to‑face interview with someone in our field office.  And they are asked very detailed questions.  They are also asked about their criminal history.  And the reality of it is that SSA does not have access to criminal history data, so we rely on self‑reporting.

     *Chairman Johnson.  Well, how did Ms. Weston, who was a convicted murderer, become a representative payee in the first place, then, if you all do all that?

     *Ms. Burse Greene.  Through deception.

     *Chairman Johnson.  Through what?

     *Ms. Burse Greene.  Through deception.  The reality of it is that when she underwent the application process, and we specifically asked her in each instance in which she submitted an application to serve as a rep payee whether you have been convicted of a felony or any type of crime that has resulted in imprisonment over a year, she responded in the negative.

     *Chairman Johnson.  So you all don’t check on them after you get that response on paper?

     *Ms. Burse Greene.  SSA does not have access to criminal history information.  We have a database called PUPS.  I can’t tell you exactly what that stands for, but it is basically information that we receive indicating whether someone is imprisoned.

     We also receive data, or have data readily available, as to whether someone is a fugitive felon or not.  We do not have access to criminal history information.  Thus, the reason why Senator Casey in December of 2011 submitted a legislative proposal at our request to allow us to gain access to the FBI’s NCIC information.  And to the best of my knowledge, that proposal died in committee.

     *Chairman Johnson.  You can’t ask the FBI for that information?

     *Ms. Burse Greene.  We have been told we cannot use that data for the purposes of administering ‑‑

     *Chairman Johnson.  No, but you can’t ask them if a person is a criminal, has a criminal history or not?

     *Ms. Burse Greene.  We do ask whether or not they have a criminal history.  And it is up to the person, the applicant, to be forthright with us.

     *Chairman Johnson.  People lie a lot, you know.

     *Ms. Burse Greene.  That is absolutely correct.  And that is why we have, on our own, developed a relationship with Lexis/Nexis to obtain information through their Accurint Program to try to obtain criminal history information.  And we will ‑‑

     *Chairman Johnson.  Okay.  My time is about to expire.  Mr. Bertoni, Social Security plans to complete its pilot program evaluation in Fiscal Year 2014.  That is three years after this Weston case broke.  Why is it taking Social Security so long to find an answer that works?

     *Mr. Bertoni.  I think the timeline ‑‑ the answer to that is probably best left to the Social Security witness.  But what I would say is that our main question or concern is that why has it taken so long for the agency to pursue third‑party verification information.  And in our view, that probably should have been built into the pilot from the start.

     So, now they find themselves, three years out, just now beginning to stand up a verification system that could really inform them as to the effectiveness of this pilot.  And they are not going to have that information for some time.  So I would not be surprised if they didn’t have enough information to even know whether the pilot was effective in 2014 and worthy of national roll‑out.

     *Chairman Johnson.  Thank you, sir.  Mr. Thompson, you are the only one left.  You want to question?

     *Mr. Thompson.  I do.  Thank you, Mr. Chairman.  Thank you for holding this hearing.  This is very, very important.

     Mr. Cerano, you mentioned the turkey farmer case.  And I think you referred to it as inappropriate, how they handled this.  Wasn’t it just downright criminal ‑‑

     *Mr. Cerano.  Yes.

     *Mr. Thompson.  ‑‑ what they did?

     *Mr. Cerano.  Yes, it was.  It was exploitation and people living in horrific conditions.

     *Mr. Thompson.  Are they in jail now?

     *Mr. Cerano.  I believe they are, and there have been ‑‑ there is a recent ‑‑

     *Mr. Thompson.  What happened to their holdings?  What happened to the turkey farm and their facility, do you know?

     *Mr. Cerano.  I don’t know.  I assume that ‑‑ I don’t know that they are even still in business.  But I know that there has been recently a settlement.

     *Mr. Thompson.  And ‑‑ but you don’t know if they were able to keep that, or was it confiscated and sold, and these folks who ‑‑

     *Mr. Cerano.  Well ‑‑

     *Mr. Thompson.  ‑‑ were imprisoned paid back?

     *Mr. Cerano.  I don’t know the details of it, but I know that there were criminal charges filed and justice was sought.  It was criminal, absolutely criminal.

     *Mr. Thompson.  Ms. Greene, so you don’t do any background checks on people?  People just come in and say, “Yes, I am fine, I am law‑abiding, and put me in charge”?  There is ‑‑

     *Ms. Burse Greene.  That is correct.  Currently we rely on self‑reporting.

     *Mr. Thompson.  What is the ‑‑ what would be the problem with doing background checks?

     *Ms. Burse Greene.  There is no problem with doing background checks.  We have ‑‑

     *Mr. Thompson.  Why don’t you do them?

     *Ms. Burse Greene.  We do not have access to the data in order to conduct the background checks.  And so, as I mentioned ‑‑

     *Mr. Thompson.  Is there a cost associated with doing those background checks?

     *Ms. Burse Greene.  Absolutely there is a cost associated with it.  I mean there is a legal prohibition at this point as to why we cannot use the FBI’s database.  And again, it is going to require legislation for us to be able to gain access to that.  And to this date, Congress has not acted on that proposal.

     And so, again, we have, on our own initiative, worked with Lexis/Nexis to obtain criminal history information.  We will begin piloting the use of that criminal history information in the next two to three weeks or so.  And so, we are well on our way.  We absolutely agree with you that self‑reporting is not sufficient.  We have to have a way to verify the information that is being provided to us, and we will begin piloting the use of the information that we receive from Lexis/Nexis within the next couple of weeks.

     *Mr. Thompson.  Well, I know if you buy a gun from a gun store in this country, they have got a process that takes about 90 seconds, and they can tell if someone is eligible to buy a gun or prohibited from buying a gun.  And it is a pretty quick check.  And it would seem to me that, you know, that would ‑‑ we need to figure out something to ‑‑ that works in this case, too.

     *Ms. Burse Greene.  We could really use your help in that regard.

     *Mr. Thompson.  I mean you ‑‑ for as long as I can remember, there is examples of people who abuse people for personal gain.  And it always surfaces in a newspaper story ‑‑

     *Chairman Johnson.  I think the Democrat Congress is holding us up.  We have a provision to do that.

     *Mr. Thompson.  I don’t think we are holding you up.

     *Chairman Johnson.  Okay.  Well, we will put it out there again.  What do you think?

     *Mr. Thompson.  Mr. Bertoni, you went into great lengths regarding the long‑term planning, which is a very important aspect of this, given the number of people ‑‑ and I think Mr. Johnson mentioned folks with Alzheimer’s.  Those numbers are staggering.  And the truth of the matter is, with my generation, there is a lot of us who are probably going to fall into the category of needing some help along the way.  And that is important.  But I don’t think it is the whole answer.  There needs to be a lot more done to protect this vulnerable group of people.

     Does the Social Security folks ‑‑ do the Social Security folks have the resources that they need to adequately protect these people, and do the background checks, and to make sure?

     *Mr. Bertoni.  I think it is reasonable to say that, given the long‑term hiring freeze, the attrition in the Agency, that they could use some additional staff.  I don’t know what that number is.

     I also think they haven’t made a good business case as to the number of staff they need, the level of effort that they are going to have to be confronting down the road ‑‑

     *Mr. Thompson.  There is two things.  There is ‑‑ one is do they have enough money to do their ‑‑ the caseload that they have now, and then the issue that you raised, the long‑term planning.  If the answer is no to the first one, they certainly don’t have the money to grow their program to accommodate this increase in population.

     *Mr. Bertoni.  I can’t say whether they have adequate money now.  I think they have asked for more resources.  I do know within their existing pot of resources they could work smarter.  And again, this issue of ‑‑

     *Mr. Thompson.  Well, everybody could work smarter, but ‑‑

     *Mr. Bertoni.  ‑‑ of self‑reported information ‑‑

     *Mr. Thompson.  We need to ‑‑ I think we need to drill down on this a little bit more, Mr. Chairman, because everybody can work smarter with the resources we have.  You can in your office.  I can in mine.  You can in your home.  I can in my home.  I can in my own business.  That is just ‑‑ we can stipulate that.  But we need to find out what they need, and make sure they get it.

     *Mr. Bertoni.  And that is why we have asked them to sort of do an assessment of the demographic characteristics of the beneficiary population, what their impairments will look like, what their levels of services will need, how that translates to level of effort, number of rep payees and staff needed, people, processes, and technologies, and then to come to you with a good number, in terms of what that will cost.  They need a good business case so you have the opportunity to make a data‑driven decision as to the amount, and whether you want to provide that money.  And that is what we say in the report.

     *Chairman Johnson.  Thank you.  The gentleman’s time has expired.  Mr. Tiberi, you are recognized.

     *Mr. Tiberi.  Thank you.  Mr. Bertoni, kind of following up on Mr. Thompson’s point, in terms of self‑reporting, what are your thoughts about either a FBI background check or something to determine criminality?

     *Mr. Bertoni.  Sure, sure.  I have been up here quite a few times talking about a lot of different aspects of SSA’s program, and I have always said that the self‑reporting aspect of many of their programs is the weak link in the internal control chain.  So that needs to be addressed across the board with SSA’s programs.

     The fact that they are now planning to access Accurint and to do those checks, that is a good thing.  Again, what we are concerned about is that it has taken three years to get there.  And it may take a considerable amount of time to get enough data to understand whether this program is actually accomplishing its goal of preventing misuse.

     *Mr. Tiberi.  How about Social Security’s coordination with other programs?  How can that tie into this ‑‑

     *Mr. Bertoni.  Sure.

     *Mr. Tiberi.  ‑‑ and be improved?

     *Mr. Bertoni.  We have long said that they could coordinate with state courts, guardianship programs.  We have a recommendation in 2011 that they should do everything possible to try to share, have a two‑way sharing agreement with the states.  And to the extent that they need ‑‑ they believe they need additional legislative authority to work around the Privacy Act restrictions, Social Security Act restrictions, that they should work with the Congress to try to get those authorities.

     So, there is opportunity to leverage resources for both programs, to better screen their rep payees and their guardians up front, and to ensure that they are bringing in good people into the program.

     *Mr. Tiberi.  Now, you have found that they have not engaged in long‑term planning in the representative payee program.  In your opinion, what would be the risks of not doing that?  And why do you think they haven’t done that?

     *Mr. Bertoni.  The short answer is they could be caught flat‑footed in terms of being able to provide service delivery down the road.  We have ‑‑ the risks, you know, are evident.  This program is growing.  The number of aging beneficiaries will be up around 72 million in 2025.  They need to get out in front of these issues.  And part of that is, again, assessing the demographic characteristics of the population, what they will need, the staff that will be needed, the people‑processing technology, number of rep payees.  And the goal ‑‑ answer here is how much it will cost.

     *Mr. Tiberi.  Ms. Greene, kind of following up on the GAO report, what are the hurdles that we can help you with to accomplish what Mr. Bertoni and the GAO have identified?

     *Ms. Burse Greene.  So, I would agree with Mr. Bertoni that the one area that we definitely can improve in is coordination with state and federal agencies.  And that was one of the recommendations of the NAS recommendations.

     And Acting Commissioner Colvin has taken that challenge to heart.  I mean she has personally reached out to her counterparts at the other federal agencies to engage them in dialogue about how we can do a better job of coordinating with those agencies, how we can share data in an automated way.  These issues have been discussed at the Elder Justice Coordinating Council.  We are trying to understand exactly what the barriers are.

     Mr. Bertoni indicated there are some Privacy Act implications there, as well.  We are trying to have a really good understanding as to what those barriers are, so that we can be poised to present to the Congress and to this Committee some legislative proposals that will help us move forward.  And she has set the tone, and we have taken that charge.

     And with that said, we have engaged ACUS, the Administrative Conference of the United States, to help us engage the state courts and some of the state agencies, so that we can have a better understanding as to how they select payees, how they monitor their payees, so that we can get a good gauge for whether or not there is some data to be shared.  So, we absolutely agree with you.  We can do a better job there, and we have already started the course.

     In terms of the long‑term strategy, I think I must just put some things into context here, okay?  So, for the last three years, we have received $1 billion less in the President’s budget.  We have lost over 10,000 employees since Fiscal Year 2011 and we will lose more this fiscal year.  We currently expend 1,900 work years on rep payee activities alone.  That investment in resources in representative payee activities will not increase unless we receive additional funding and resources from Congress.

     So, until we receive those additional resources, we have to think more strategically about how we target our resources.  And this is where we need your help, because right now we are beholden to statutory provisions that, in its time, were probably very relevant and very pertinent.  But the reality of it is that we are reviewing 6.5 million accounting reports every single year.  And the results are that in very limited circumstances are we finding any misuse as a result of reviewing those forms.  And NAS has determined, our IG has determined, that spending approximately 600 work years reviewing these forms is not a good use of resources.  But it is mandated by law.  So that is where we could use your help.

     *Mr. Tiberi.  Well, my time ‑‑

     *Ms. Burse Greene.  Because we need some flexibility there so that we can figure out the best way, the strategic way, to use those 1,900 resources to protect our beneficiaries.

     *Mr. Tiberi.  Thank you.  My time is expired, and we look forward to working with you.  One cautionary note out there, not to malign your agency; thank you for what you do.  But when scandals like the Social Security conferences spending millions of dollars hit the media, people back home, I know where I live ‑‑ it pains us all, whether you are at the IRS, whether you are in Congress, whether you are at Social Security ‑‑ people tend to think we all have a bunch of money around.

     And so, obviously, as you, as a senior person at Social Security focus on those resources, I just throw that cautionary note out there, the challenges that we face in the future on funding.  Yield back.

     *Chairman Johnson.  Thank you.  You know we built another facility for you in North Carolina.  And it seems to me you got some extra resources in Baltimore.  But you are doing this in Wilkes Barre.  And I still don’t understand that division of effort.  But it seems to me you probably do have some resources, if you just look around.

     Mr. Renacci, you are recognized.

     *Mr. Renacci.  Thank you, Mr. Chairman.  And I want to thank the witnesses for your testimony.

     I do have some personal experience.  I operated nursing homes for almost 20 years, so I understand how difficult it is sometimes to get a payee.  And I realize the challenges that you face.  And I think, in operating a business, though, sometimes you have to use the resources smarter.  And I heard you both ‑‑ many of you say that.  So I think that is the key.  And we want to help you.  We want to be able to work with you to come up with some of those answers.

     Mr. Bertoni, you talked in your testimony that Social Security has tried to recruit more payees.  And I understand that some of the experts interviewed talked about contracting out that responsibility.  Can you tell me a little more about what the experts thought about that idea?

     *Mr. Bertoni.  Sure, sure.  I think the consensus was that perhaps this was resources that SSA probably ‑‑ scarce resources that they didn’t want to dedicate to this function, given the track record and already being able to recruit additional rep payees.

     One suggestion was to use contractors who SSA could use to go out, recruit, train, and hold them accountable for developing a pool of qualified candidates.  I don’t think there was consensus that that was the absolute way to go.  But it was an area to explore and potentially to pilot it, proof‑of‑concept it to see if it is, number one, cost‑effective, feasible, and that they were the best model to pursue it.

     *Mr. Renacci.  Ms. Greene, have you analyzed that option?  What have you thought about it?  Was there any conclusions made?

     *Ms. Burse Greene.  So, as I mentioned, we have established a strategic team that will look at all of the options and recommendations presented by GAO.  And that is one of the options that we will explore.

     But the reality of it is that ‑‑ and again, we will evaluate the cost benefits and the feasibility of those options, as well.  But the reality of it is that if you contract out that work, it still requires funds.  And so, unless we receive additional funds from Congress to dedicate to this effort, we will be ‑‑ we are already faced with making some very difficult decisions with the limited resources and with the limited funds that we have.  And while it is definitely a nice thing to do, we are closing field offices, we are shutting them down earlier in the day, we are losing staff, we are making some very tough decisions.  And discretionary spending on things that are really nice to do I am not quite certain will rise to the top.

     *Mr. Renacci.  Well, keep in mind ‑‑ and again, I appreciate that you are even looking at it.  Sometimes contracting out can help eliminate some of the cost and burden that the Administration has.  So, you know, it is not extra money sometimes, it is using resources more appropriately.

     You also mentioned the pilot program, and I believe that pilot program was put in place to bar individuals that committed certain crimes from being eligible payees.  GAO recommended to access whether or not a criminal bar pilot actually reduces the incidents of benefit misuse in the long run.  Has the SSA implemented that  recommendation of assessing some type of program to understand whether it is working?

     *Ms. Burse Greene.  We absolutely will evaluate the pilot.  Right now, again, the pilot has been implemented in five States and the District of Columbia.  Right now we are trying to ‑‑ again, it is all based at this point on self‑reporting.  And so, what we are trying to get a feel for are the various state variations in the way crimes are defined, trying to ensure that there is some consistent application for this policy.  And then, within the next two weeks, we will then also allow them to access the Lexis/Nexis Accurint data.  And at that point we will then evaluate whether the use of the barred crimes list, as well as the use of the Lexis/Nexis Accurint tool will actually prevent misuse.  And so we will evaluate both of those pilots together.

     *Mr. Renacci.  So the answer is that is something you are going ‑‑

     *Ms. Burse Greene.  Absolutely.  We have concurred with that recommendation.

     *Mr. Renacci.  And I know there was talk about ‑‑ I think Mr. Cerano talked about representative payees commingling funds.  Can you tell me what SSA is doing to reduce these occurrences?

     *Ms. Burse Greene.  We use them as teachable moments.  And so, when those types of circumstances come to our attention, commingling of funds, payees failing to notify the Agency when a beneficiary is working ‑‑

     *Mr. Renacci.  But if you find that is occurring, what do you do? 

     *Ms. Burse Greene.  We contact the payee, and we use it as a teachable moment.  We contact them, we explain to them the rules and the procedures with regard to how to handle the funds, that they must keep them in separate accounts.  What are the rules for reporting work?  So we use those as teachable moments ‑‑

     *Mr. Renacci.  But that is after.  I was actually looking proactively, instead of reactively.

     *Ms. Burse Greene.  Okay.

     *Mr. Renacci.  Proactively, what are you doing?

     *Ms. Burse Greene.  When an applicant is approved to serve as a rep payee, we sit down with them, we talk to them about their roles and responsibilities, and we provide them with material, again, that emphasizes what their roles and responsibilities are.  So we provide training to them before they even embark on their responsibilities.

     *Mr. Renacci.  Thank you.  I yield back.

     *Chairman Johnson.  Thank you.  Mr. Becerra, you are recognized.

     *Mr. Becerra.  Thank you, Mr. Chairman.  And to the witnesses, thank you so much.  Enlightening, very enlightening.

     Ms. Greene, coordinating with other agencies.  You mentioned that trying to ‑‑ SSA is trying to do that more.  That is very important.  Can we do something?  Can you give us a report back soon on what is being done?  I think one of the frustrations we have is that we only get the testimony and we hear about the issues, we hear about some of the progress, but we are not there on the ground the way you are.  Can you agree to come back to us at some point soon ‑‑ soon being a reasonable interpretation of the word ‑‑ so that we know that SSA really is trying to figure out a way to coordinate better with some of these agencies, so that we can deal with all of these issues that come up with these representative payees?

     I don’t think any one of us wants to hear any more stories of individuals who had their money swindled from their hands and pockets.  So, anything that you can do to accelerate an opportunity for us to sit with you to find out what specifically SSA is doing to try to better coordinate with agencies that are relevant to this issue, that would be great.

     *Ms. Burse Greene.  You have my commitment.

     *Mr. Becerra.  Excellent.  You mentioned ‑‑ you were, I thought, very clear in some of your remarks about the difficulties that SSA faces when it comes to meeting the challenges here.  Quick question.  My sense is that dealing with representative payees, making sure that there is a appropriate representative payee, making sure that there is good follow‑through, and that the beneficiary is getting good service from the representative payee, is not just some paper task that goes quickly.  It sounds to me like it is labor‑intensive on the part of SSA.

     *Ms. Burse Greene.  Oh, it is labor‑intensive.  And pretty much all of those requirements require a face‑to‑face interaction.  And so, again, we are engaging in face‑to‑face interaction when we are making a capability determination.  We are making ‑‑ having face‑to‑face interaction when we are making suitability determinations.  We are having face‑to‑face interaction when we are training these payees.  We are having face‑to‑face interaction when we are out there doing on‑site reviews, conducting these targeted reviews.

     And so, there is a lot of face‑to‑face interaction that can’t be done via automation, but requires some dedicated, trained employees to do the job for us.

     *Mr. Becerra.  So you are helping these representative  ‑‑ or prospective representative payees — understand the law and getting trained up so they can do this.  You are interviewing these folks to make sure that they are qualified.  You are spending a lot of time with them.

     *Ms. Burse Greene.  Absolutely.

     *Mr. Becerra.  Okay.

     *Ms. Burse Greene.  Again, we spend, like, 1,900 work years on rep payee activity alone.

     *Mr. Becerra.  And this is done mostly through your local offices, your field offices.

     *Ms. Burse Greene.  Absolutely, they are.

     *Mr. Becerra.  Now, what was the statistic you mentioned about the staffing right now in your local offices?  What is going on with ‑‑ as a result of these budget cuts to your SSA budget?

     *Ms. Burse Greene.  Well, we are closing offices, we are shortening hours.  We ‑‑ there has been a ‑‑ there has been service deterioration on all of our service channels.

     And so, look.  The budget has impacted Social Security in very significant ways.  Our Acting Commissioner is having to make some very tough decisions on how to spend the limited resources that we have.  And allocating resources to things that are just nice to do, we have been told is not acceptable.  We are focusing on that which is mandatory, which, I am sure, you can appreciate.

     *Mr. Becerra.  Mr. Cerano, thank you for being here.  Question for you.  In your opinion ‑‑ and you have done this for quite some time, working with folks and representing folks who are disabled, who need assistance ‑‑ what has been your relationship with SSA over the years?  Are they working this in a way that gives you confidence that they are trying to make sure that they do the best job possible when it comes to finding good representative payees for Americans who need that help?

     *Mr. Cerano.  Yes, absolutely.  They are doing the best job they can with the resources that are available.  The reviews that we do are given to us by Social Security.  They have already targeted the rep payee for additional review.  We go in and we do, then, some labor‑intensive stuff with face‑to‑face interviews with the rep payee, as well as with the beneficiaries.

     In Michigan, we have served over 56 ‑‑ done over 56 reviews, and interviewed over 208 beneficiaries.  We are finding that about 48 percent of the reviews that we do, we have questions about some of the financial dealings.  So they were already targeted by Social Security Administration; we are doing the additional follow‑up and giving them back to Social Security.

     *Mr. Becerra.  Well, I hope you will continue to do that.

     *Mr. Cerano.  Thank you.

     *Mr. Becerra.  Mr. Bertoni, one final question I have.  Ms. Greene mentioned flexibility, that there are some requirements that they have that seem to be somewhat outdated, that if they had more flexibility they could actually be smarter in the way they do their work.  Any comment on that?

     *Mr. Bertoni.  Yes. I think several of the options that we put on the table would require a law change, would allow them to calibrate their monitoring, to calibrate the reviews of the accounting reports.  Not all rep payees are created equal.  Some are more risky than others.

     *Mr. Becerra.  Yes.

     *Mr. Bertoni.  So it makes sense to take a risk‑based approach to this population.  So we would support that.  I have supported it in other programs and other times I have testified in other aspects.  So it is a way to work smarter.  I understand the resource issue.  But again, to wring out efficiencies from what they have been dealt.  It is a policy question as to whether there will be more resources.  But in the interim, there is opportunities here.  And I think through their legislative office, legislative proposals, they could work with the Congress to create some flexibilities.

     *Mr. Becerra.  Excellent.  Thank you, Mr. Chairman.  I yield back the balance of my time.

     *Chairman Johnson.  There is a lot of paperwork that goes into that.  It seems to me we overdo it in some areas and we don’t identify the areas that really need to be looked at.  But if you all can figure out a way to do it, we will sure help you.

     Mr. Brady, you are recognized.

     *Mr. Brady.  Thank you, Mr. Chairman.  One, this is an important hearing to hold.  Thank you for doing that.  Secondly, I don’t buy the excuse, “the sequester made me do it.”  This has been a problem that has been around for years.  And recommendations to solve it have been around and languished for years.  They didn’t start in March.  And I don’t think we have taken the adequate steps to protect these payees.

     And I know, Ms. Greene, you talk about not having enough money for discretionary activities.  But it seems to me these people handle the money for seniors with dementia, with Alzheimer’s, with no capability of taking care of themselves.  If that isn’t a priority within your agency, what is a priority?

     I want to put this in perspective, just so that I understand what we are dealing with.  We have six million representative payees currently today and it is growing.  What ‑‑ how many cases of fraud or abuse were identified last year?

     *Ms. Burse Greene.  Just pulling out some numbers.

     *Mr. Brady.  Sure.

     *Ms. Burse Greene.  So in Fiscal Year 2012 we referred to the Office of Inspector General about 16,000 cases, of which they opened approximately 562 cases and sentencing resulted in approximately 261 of them.  Thus far this fiscal year, we have referred to the Office of Inspector General 7,600 cases, of which 136 have been sentenced so far.

     *Mr. Brady.  What are the numbers this year did you say, Ms. Greene?

     *Ms. Burse Greene.  Thus far this fiscal year about 7,700.

     *Mr. Brady.  Of the 16,000 that were referenced, why were so few pursued?  Out of 16,000 referred, excuse me, why were 562 taken action on?  What was the criteria? 

     *Ms. Burse Greene.  I would have to defer to the Office of Inspector General in that regard.

     *Mr. Brady.  Okay.

     *Ms. Burse Greene.  But, obviously, there are additional cases that are not ‑‑ not all cases are referred to the Office of Inspector General.  And in ‑‑

     *Mr. Brady.  But the more serious ones are?

     *Ms. Burse Greene.  The more serious ones are.  And so, we could provide for the record the exact number ‑‑ the total universe of misuse cases over the last several years ‑‑

     *Mr. Brady.  Well, what I am actually looking at is, of the 16,000 serious cases that were referred, why were only 562 pursued, and what criteria was used, and what dropped them off the radar, going forward.

     Secondly, is that consistent with the year before?  I mean is there a trend occurring in the number of cases identified?

     *Ms. Burse Greene.  Unfortunately ‑‑

     *Mr. Brady.  Smaller, larger?

     *Ms. Burse Greene.  Correct.  Unfortunately, I do not have Fiscal Year 2011 data.  But we would be more than willing to provide that information to you for the record.

     *Mr. Brady.  Can I ask you this, Mr. Bertoni?  Do you think, just using the 16,000 figure ‑‑ I don’t know what percentage that would be , do you think that is the range of fraud and abuse?  I am not looking for a number, but what is your gut feel on the real problem we have got?

     *Mr. Bertoni.  I don’t have real confidence in that number.  It is only fraud and abuse once you are aware of it.  And it is only fraud once you have obtained a conviction.  So it is a cascading effect.  If you don’t have procedures in place to find it that are sufficient, I don’t know if you can know the universe.  I think it is probably larger than some of the one percent figures that we have been ‑‑ I have seen kicked around.  But I don’t know what that number is.

     But given what I know about what they do, their processes for monitoring overseeing, I could see where it would be difficult to capture the full range of fraud and abuse.

     *Mr. Brady.  Could it be double that amount, do you believe?

     *Mr. Bertoni.  Possibly, but I don’t want to ‑‑

     *Mr. Brady.  No, no, no, I am just trying to get the whole ‑‑ and the single most important thing we could do to identify that range and prevent it would be what?

     *Mr. Bertoni.  Again, I think moving away from self‑reporting and relying on recipients and beneficiaries to do the right thing is key.

     I will give an example.  The Social Security Protection Act of 2004 prohibits anybody that has spent more than a year in jail from cashing the check of another.  And that would be ‑‑ Ms. Weston would have fallen into that category years ago.  She chose not to report the fact that she was incarcerated over a year ago for over a year, and there were no processes in place to identify that.

     So, we take this all the way back.  Perhaps this would have never happened had there been a more rigorous verification process in place.

     *Mr. Brady.  The discussions today about whether tying into the background check when you are purchasing a weapon or, under the President’s new health care law, the new central data hub has access from five different agencies, including Department of Justice, checking on incarceration, you know, and other criminal background issues.  Are there some readily available avenues that we could tie into without hiring 10,000 more workers?

     *Mr. Bertoni.  I think you could tie into a lot more additional databases that aren’t even classified as criminal.  The Do Not Pay list in Treasury has a range of databases that the Administration could use to identify folks who are perhaps not of good character, at least, if not convicted of a crime, bankruptcy, other types of financial type of ‑‑

     *Mr. Brady.  Financial red flags that ‑‑

     *Mr. Bertoni.  Red flags, correct.

     *Mr. Brady.  ‑‑ we ought to be aware of.

     *Mr. Bertoni.  There are databases.  The database that they are tapping into, a great ‑‑ I don’t want to call ‑‑ a great step towards increasing integrity.  Again, not perfect, not entirely comprehensive, but it is more than they have now.

     *Mr. Brady.  Okay.

     *Chairman Johnson.  Thank you.

     *Mr. Brady.  Mr. Chairman, thank you.

     *Chairman Johnson.  Thank you.  Mr. Kelly, you are recognized.

     *Mr. Kelly.  I thank the chairman and thank you all for being here.

     I was reading in the overview and it says, “The SSA appoints a representative payee when a beneficiary is either under the age of 15 or unable to manage the direct management of his or her benefits.”  And if I am reading this correctly, and it says, “The SSA seeks whenever possible to identify a family member, a friend, a legal guardian, a conservator, or any person who shows a strong concern for the beneficiary,” and these people are often referred to as individual payees.

     Now, Ms. Greene, 85 percent of these representative payees are parents or spouses, is my understanding.  Over half of those representative payees are minor children.  So we know they have this qualification of being a family member, friend, or having a genuine concern.  And every year these families have to submit a report to Social Security about how the benefits are being used.

     Now, in 2008 and 2009, SSA supported legislation to Congress to exempt parents and spouses from this requirement, saying that there is little evidence that these payees are prone to misusing benefits.  So does SSA still support that type of proposal with appropriate safeguards?

     *Ms. Burse Greene.  So again, I will mention that just the accounting mechanism, just generally speaking, isn’t effective, whether it is for parents or whether it is for any of the payees.  It is not effective.

     *Mr. Kelly.  But I mean if qualifying these folks is a problem and if we know, look, if it is my son or daughter or my wife or, you know, somebody that I have great concern for, individual concern ‑‑ because I think Americans absolutely always want to protect our most vulnerable, and this is a program that is supposed to do that ‑‑ then the question becomes, okay, we are doing that, and we are allotting money to that, but the people who are supposed to handle it for these folks that can’t do it themselves ‑‑ if we qualified them in that way, then doing this report, would that not lighten your burden of these things that you are trying to find out?

     Because if there is little belief that they are actually misusing the funds, then wouldn’t it be easy to move those folks out of that category?

     *Ms. Burse Greene.  I ‑‑ from a policy perspective, that makes all the world of sense to me.  And it also saves about 270 work years for us to redirect that in a more targeted way.

     But the trade‑off to that is that we now have data available that we did not have available in 2009 to actually evaluate whether the underlying premise is true, and that family members are ‑‑ have a lesser likelihood or a lesser propensity towards misusing the funds.  We now have data that would allow us to test that underlying premise, and that is exactly, I think, what we need to do before we submit that proposal again.

     *Mr. Kelly.  I agree with you.  I have watched these folks.  Getting paid to do a job is one thing.  Having your heart in the job is quite something else.  Now, if we are able to do that, if we are able to set aside parents and people that really have a genuine concern, how many ‑‑ that would lighten your load.  And you don’t have to answer me today, but how many people would that free up to do other things that you need to do?

     *Ms. Burse Greene.  Oh, that is ‑‑ and that is why that proposal is so appealing to us at SSA.

     *Mr. Kelly.  Okay.

     *Ms. Burse Greene.  It will allow us to save work years dedicated to that process.  And again, use those resources in a more targeted way to identify payees who have a higher propensity to misuse the funds.

     *Mr. Kelly.  Sure.

     *Ms. Burse Greene.  But again, I think that we need to step back, now that we have data available, and evaluate to see whether or not the underlying premise is true.

     And again, there are trade‑offs, and there is no perfect option.  And there may be situations where parents misuse the funds.  But again, it is a trade‑off, and we have to make sure we strike that right balance.

     *Mr. Kelly.  But that is considerably reduced when it is a parent or, you know, a ‑‑

     *Ms. Burse Greene.  Custodial parent or a custodial spouse.

     *Mr. Kelly.  Yes.  And I was looking at the numbers ‑‑ and Mr. Bertoni, maybe you can help me with this, because if I am looking at what we pay these folks to be the payee, it says up to 10 percent of the monthly benefit.  I guess it says for social organizations it is $76 per month, if the person is an experienced drug or addiction or alcoholism. Who do you get for that kind of money?  I mean for $4 a day, who do you get?

     *Mr. Bertoni.  It is actually 10 percent of the benefit amount, up to $39, maximum.

     *Mr. Kelly.  Thirty‑nine dollars?

     *Mr. Bertoni.  Maximum for most ‑‑

     *Mr. Kelly.  For what period of time?  For how much?

     *Mr. Bertoni.  Per month.

     *Mr. Kelly.  Per month, $39 a month?

     *Mr. Bertoni.  For each beneficiary it is 10 percent, up to $39 a ‑‑

     *Mr. Kelly.  So who do you attract?

     *Mr. Bertoni.  I can’t speak to ‑‑ that is probably a more better question for SSA.  But I would say that ‑‑

     *Mr. Kelly.  Well, shoot.  That is just over ‑‑ what is it, $1.30 a day?  You know, we talk about people not wanting to work for minimum wage. I mean seriously.

     *Mr. Bertoni.  Well, there is no question it is difficult to find rep payees ‑‑

     *Mr. Kelly.  Well, there is a correlation between what you are willing to pay and what you are willing to get.  In my position in life, there is nothing more expensive than cheap labor.  If we have untrained people, if we have uneducated people, if we have people who are not qualified, and we have them in positions of authority and responsibility, and then we wonder why it fails, we need to go back.  This is, like, Education 101.

     So I would appreciate anything you are doing ‑‑ and I got to tell you.  I think you do wonderful work.  But the numbers are getting so overwhelming.  This population is growing.  If we can’t handle today, and we can’t get good people doing it, what are we going to do in the future?  And I don’t know that you can throw enough money at it.  I just don’t know that it is fixable.

     I am sorry, Mr. Chairman.  I yield back.  But thank you all for being here.  And, Mr. Chairman, thank you.

     *Chairman Johnson.  Thank you for your questions.  I don’t know if I would do it for a dollar a day, would you?

     *Mr. Kelly.  Only if it was my wife, daughter, grandchildren ‑‑

     [Laughter.]

     *Mr. Kelly.  No, seriously.  I am being honest.  Hey, listen, I would do it for nothing.  We would do that for nothing.  But $1.30, I don’t think I have met anyone Mr. Becerra, you and I aren’t going to do it, right?  I mean I love to help, and sometimes our hearts are willing, but our wallets are weak.

     *Chairman Johnson.  You got it.

     *Mr. Kelly.  So we got to find a way to fix this.

     *Chairman Johnson.  Mr. Griffin, you are recognized.

     *Mr. Becerra.  Great questions.

     *Mr. Griffin.  Thank you, Mr. Chairman.  It gets back, Mr. Kelly, to your earlier comment about if your heart is in it, then you may be willing to do it, but you are not going to do it for the money.  That is for sure.

     Thank you all for being here today.  Appreciate all that you all do.  I understand that, as a general matter, every agency would like more money.  I have never seen, never found, one agency that is not interested in having more money.  So we get that, that is sort of a constant.  But we just got through discussing, separate from the money ‑‑ or you just got through discussing with Mr. Kelly a way to innovate and to use money more wisely and time more wisely.  And I am sure that there are 100 more examples that we can find.  Some of those you can implement, and some of them we have to do legislatively.

     I would encourage you to, if there is ever ‑‑ through the proper channels, of course ‑‑ but if there is ever an opportunity to innovate and to do better and ‑‑ where we have to do something statutorily, let us know.  Because we certainly want to facilitate that.  And I am reminded of the hearing when we talked about the 1976 accounting system that Social Security has.  So, clearly, there is room to improve there.

     But I wanted to ask you about how you communicate with representative payees.  What is the range of ways?  I assume, obviously, mail and phone and all.  But, very specifically, how do you communicate with these representative payees?  And what improvements do you think we can be making in our ability to communicate with them?  Because it would seem to me that the more frequent communication you can have with people, the more of a check, or the better the quality of the service.  Could you comment on that, please?

     *Ms. Burse Greene.  Sure.  Thank you for the question.  And so, our first interaction with the rep payee is at the point in time when they are applying to serve as the rep payee.  And we use that as an opportunity to make sure that they understand before we actually appoint them as the re‑payee, that they understand what their responsibilities are, and what their obligations are to SSA in that capacity.

     Once they are appointed the representative payee, again, we have another conversation with them about roles, responsibilities, expectations.  And then we provide to them a point of contact in the field office to whom they can go and direct questions if, indeed, they have any.  Obviously, when we are conducting our on‑site reviews, that is another opportunity to engage the rep payee.  And again, instances of misuse is very rare.  And so ‑‑ but there are other issues that may arise during those reviews.  For instance, perhaps commingling of funds, not reporting over‑payments.  And again, that is a teachable moment that we utilize to engage the rep payee to remind them of their responsibilities.

     And, obviously, our partner here, NDRN, they are the boots on the ground.  They are interacting with the rep payees, as well.  And so we try to utilize not only our face‑to‑face opportunities with them to engage them to answer their questions, to provide training to them, but we have our partners here, NDRN, as well.

     And just one further point is that we have developed quite a number of training materials for the rep payees to utilize, be it pamphlets or brochures.  We have a very informative website that they can go to to obtain information as well, to understand their reporting obligations.  We have interacted with many of the advocate groups to make ‑‑ help us disseminate information to the rep payees, in addition to trying to get more individuals to volunteer to serve as rep payees in addition to trying to get more individuals to volunteer to serve as rep payees, so we try to utilize all of the resources and the networks that we have at the state and local and federal levels to educate the rep payees.  But we rely primarily on our face‑to‑face interactions at the local level.

     *Mr. Griffin.  Do you want to add to that?

     *Mr. Cerano.  And the face‑to‑face interactions are critical.  The information we get is information that was given to us by Social Security.  We go out and then do the additional follow‑up interviews with the rep payee, as well as the beneficiary.  And then we report back to Social Security as to where we think they need additional follow‑up.  So, yes, the face‑to‑face stuff is absolutely critical.

     *Mr. Griffin.  And I apologize if I missed this earlier, but what sort of filtering or background checking goes on here?  Anything at all, in terms of criminal record or drug tests, or anything like that?

     *Mr. Cerano.  We don’t do that.  That is done when they apply for the rep payee program through Social Security.

     *Mr. Griffin.  Okay, so Ms. Greene? 

     *Ms. Burse Greene.  Right.  And so, as we talked about earlier, right now we are relying primarily on self‑reporting.  We do have information available to us about, you know, whether or not the applicant is currently imprisoned, or whether or not they are a fugitive felon.  But we have been working with Senator Casey to try to get some legislation passed to grant us access to the FBI’s National Crime Information Center information.

     We have not had any success there, but we are working currently with Lexis/Nexis Accurint to receive criminal history data, and we will be utilizing that information on a pilot basis within the next few weeks, just to verify the type of information that we are receiving, and basically verify that against some of the information that is being self‑reported.

     *Mr. Griffin.  I mean it is not quite an employer‑employee relationship, but there are a lot of analogies, certainly.

     Looks like I am out of time, Mr. Chairman.  Thank you for having this hearing.

     *Chairman Johnson.  The British call it a sticky wicket.

     [Laughter.]

     *Chairman Johnson.  Thank you to our witnesses for your testimony today, and to the Members who are still here.  I want to be sure this important program is given the attention that Americans expect and deserve.  Therefore, I ask that within 30 days Social Security submit to the subcommittee its response to the recommendations of the National Academies report, please.  And the one on improving the Social Security Representative Payee Program.  And if a recommendation is not being implemented, we want to know why, please.

     We have heard of a number of legislative changes to improve the representative payee program.  I look forward to working with all of you, and hope you will come back, Mr. Bertoni, and with better news next time.

     And I appreciate the testimony of all three of you, and thank you for being here.  With that, the committee stands adjourned.

     [Whereupon, at 11:20 a.m., the subcommittee was adjourned.]

Public Submissions For The Record

Reid Weisbord
AARP
Jeffrey Diamond

DiversifiedReporting Services, Inc.

RPTS CARR

HWM156010

HOW SOCIALSECURITY PROTECTS THE BENEFITS

OF THOSE WHOCANNOT PROTECT THEMSELVES

Wednesday,June 5, 2013

House ofRepresentatives,

Subcommitteeon Social Security,

Committee onWays and Means,

Washington,D.C.

     The subcommittee met, pursuant to notice,at 10:04 a.m., in Room B‑318, Rayburn House Office Building, Hon. Sam Johnson[chairman of the subcommittee] presiding.


     *Chairman Johnson.  Good morning. Thank you all for being here. Today the subcommittee is going to examine how Social Security protectsthe benefits of those who can’t protect themselves.  About 14 percent of those receiving SocialSecurity or Supplemental Security Income benefits need someone to manage theirpayments.  Those are our most vulnerable,including children and those who are mentally or physically incapable ofmanaging their benefits.

     Most often payees, known as representativepayees, are family members, often a parent or a spouse.  However, they can be a friend or a qualifiedorganization, such as a social service agency or a nursing home.  Sadly, there are payees who take advantage,sometimes in horrific ways, of the very people they are supposed to protect.

     In January of this year, the JusticeDepartment announced that Linda Weston, her daughter, and three co‑defendantswere charged in a 193‑count indictment with crimes including murder,racketeering, hate crimes, and sex trafficking. According to the indictment, Weston persuaded each victim to make herthe payee for their Social Security payments in exchange for promise of a placeto live.  Weston, aided by the co‑defendants,subjected the victims to inhumane living conditions, including beating thevictims, holding them captive in locked closets, basements, and attics, andmoving the victims between states to avoid detection.

     The indictment alleges that the use ofthese techniques caused two of the victims to die, while the others were abusedfor years until October 2011, when the Philadelphia police rescued them fromthe sub‑basement of an apartment building. The perpetrators of these crimes are in jail awaiting trial.  As a former prisoner of war, I am telling youtorture can quickly mangle your body and slowly destroy your soul.  I lived through what could only be calledhell on earth for nearly seven years, and your health and safety is of nointerest to your captors in that situation. And it breaks my heart to know the terrors these innocent folks enduredright here at home in the United States.

     While this level of cruelty from what weknow is rare, it is inexcusable and intolerable.  Soon after these crimes became public,members of this Committee asked the Government Accountability Office to examineSocial Security’s representative payee program. GAO is releasing this very important report today, and Mr. Bertoni ishere to tell us about it.

     Today there are almost six millionrepresentative payees who manage $72 billion in benefits each year for 8.4million beneficiaries.  Over the past 10years, the number of people needing a representative payee has grown by 20percent, and will only continue to grow as people live longer.  According to the Alzheimer’s Association, by2025 the number of people affected by Alzheimer’s will increase by 40 percentto reach over 7 million.

     And Congress last looked at the challengesfacing the representative payee program when it passed the Social SecurityProtection Act of 2004, and strengthened the protections against misuse.  The Weston case illustrates the importance offinding the right payee in the first place, and the importance of effectiveoversight.  Clearly, Social Security mustdo better.  The Agency must rise to thechallenge of doing what is right to protect the benefits of those who cannotprotect themselves.

     I thank our witnesses for being here today,and I look forward to hearing your testimony. I now recognize the ranking member, Mr. Becerra, for his openingstatement.

     *Mr. Becerra.  Thank you, Mr. Chairman.  And this is an extremely important hearing,and I thank you for holding it.

     Social Security has done a job for allAmericans, and it has done it well for over 77 years:  paying Americans their earned benefits ontime and in full.  So it is easy toforget what a big, important, and complicated job the Social SecurityAdministration has, and the work it does for so many Americans who rely ontheir benefits to be able to live in dignity.

     The horrific cases of children andvulnerable adults being abused and victimized by the very people who wereentrusted with those individuals’ Social Security benefits serve as a reminderthat Americans pay the price if Congress doesn’t provide the leadership and theresources needed to get it right.

     Social Security benefits currently keepmore than 21 million Americans out of poverty, including more than a millionchildren.  About 15 percent, as thechairman mentioned, of those current Social Security beneficiaries, some 8.5million people, have representative payees who collect that Social Securitybenefit for them.  While most payees do agood job ‑‑ and we are going to hear some heinous cases ‑‑ but8.5 million people have representative payees. We are not talking about 8.5 million people being abused andvictimized.  But there are clearly caseswhere there is that victimization occurring.

     So, most of these representative payees doa good job.  But when they don’t, thereare devastating consequences.  Misuse ofbenefits by a payee is often part of an overall pattern of abuse andmistreatment.  A quick example, anextremely disturbing case in Philadelphia involved not only the misuse ofSocial Security benefits, but imprisonment, slavery, physical abuse, and thedeath of adults with mental disabilities. Misuse of Social Security is not the only problem in thesesituations.  But the fact that the abusewas committed by someone who had been entrusted with the victim’s SocialSecurity benefits made the cases even more horrifying.

     Social Security cannot, by itself, protectindividuals from such predators.  But, giventhe right resources and adequate staff, Social Security can partner withprotective services and other community organizations who are charged withdetecting, stopping, and preventing abuse of adults and children — both toprotect the Social Security benefits that have been earned, and because theassignment of a representative payee is an opportunity to discover some ofthese abusive situations.

     In recent years, SSA has begun to work morewith the state protection and advocacy agencies who have deep expertise in thisarea, and have been very helpful in monitoring representative payees andadvocating for beneficiaries.  Butclearly we need to do much more, particularly as our older population getsolder, and more and more people join the ranks of the aged.  We have to fix the policies and provide theresources now, because the challenges of protecting vulnerable Americans willonly grow, as I said, as our population ages.

     In the coming years, a larger share ofseniors will be over 80 years of age, ages at which they are both more likelyto depend on Social Security, and more likely to need help managing theirbenefits.  While policies matter, you getwhat you pay for.  There is no substitutefor providing SSA with the staff and resources it needs to recruit, train, andmonitor the representative payees being trusted with other people’s SocialSecurity checks.

     A series of budget cuts and the sequestermean SSA’s budget is about $800 million lower this year than it was in 2010,even though the number of Americans Social Security is serving now hascontinued to grow.  SSA’s employees haveworked harder, faster, and smarter in every way they can, and have triedheroically to shield Americans from the effects of these cuts.  But even with their efforts, the budget cutshave forced SSA to institute a hiring freeze at local Social Security offices,and have all but eliminated their staff training budget.  These local offices have the primaryresponsibility for finding, assigning, and monitoring representative payees.

     SSA estimates that this year its backlog ofwork relating to ensuring timely and accurate payments to currentbeneficiaries, which includes monitoring representative payees, will reach7,500 work years.  That is, SSA wouldneed to have 7,500 additional employees on staff working all year long, inorder to complete all of the backlog work. These types of budget cuts can particularly be harmful to some of themost vulnerable Americans, those who require assistance managing theirbenefits.

     While we can and should look at policies tosee if we can improve them, there is no substitute for providing the resourcesnecessary so that SSA can effectively do its part to protect our mostvulnerable Americans.

     Mr. Chairman, Social Security’srepresentative payee program is just a small piece of the safety net needed toprotect some of our most vulnerable Americans. It is just one of the vitally important things our government does andneeds to do well.  Thank you for holdingthis hearing so that the problem is clearly laid out.  I look forward to the testimony of ourwitnesses and, together, working on this Committee, trying to make sure thatevery American receives the benefits he or she earned.  Thank you.

     *Chairman Johnson.  Thank you. And that they are protected.

     As is customary, any Member is welcome tosubmit a statement for the hearing record.

     Before we move on to our testimony, I wantto remind our witnesses to try to limit your oral testimony to fiveminutes.  Without objection, all thewritten testimony will be made part of the hearing record.

     We have one witness panel today.  Seated at the table are Daniel Bertoni, Director,Education, Workforce, and Income Security, Governmental AccountabilityOffice.  He is the cop.

     [Laughter.]

     *Chairman Johnson.  LaTina Burse Greene.  Did I say that correctly?

     *Ms. Burse Greene.  That is correct.

     *Chairman Johnson.  Assistant Deputy Commissioner For Retirementand Disability Policy, Social Security Administration.  Elmer Cerano, Executive Director, Michigan Protectionand Advocacy Service, on behalf of the National Disability Rights Network.

     Mr. Bertoni, welcome aboard, and thanks forbeing here again. Please go ahead with your testimony.


STATEMENT OFDANIEL BERTONI, DIRECTOR, EDUCATION, WORKFORCE, AND INCOME SECURITY, GOVERNMENTACCOUNTABILITY OFFICE

     *Mr. Bertoni.  Mr. Chairman, Ranking Member Becerra, membersof the subcommittee, good morning.  I ampleased to discuss our work on Social Security Administration’s representativepayee program, which plays an important role in ensuring that the needs of themost vulnerable Social Security beneficiaries are met.

     Last year, nearly six million SSA‑appointedpayees managed $72 billion in benefits for over 8 million individuals.  And the program is poised to grow further asthe population ages.

     My remarks are based on our report issuedtoday that discussed the current and long‑term challenges facing the program,and steps the Agency has taken or could take to address them.

     In summary, SSA struggles to effectivelyadminister the rep payee program, despite efforts to address challenges withidentifying, selecting, and monitoring payees. For example, due to increasing workloads and staff attrition, fieldoffice managers frequently have to perform duties that lower‑level stafftypically handle, such as processing initial payee applications.  In addition, SSA has experienced difficultiesidentifying payees for an increasing number of beneficiaries with mental healthconditions and those who are aged and don’t have a payee readily available.

     Unfortunately, actions the Agency has takento date to identify and recruit additional payees have yielded littleresults.  SSA also faces challenges inensuring that those who are selected as payees are of good character and suitablefor the task.  To address this challenge,SSA is piloting an initiative to screen and potentially block payee applicantswho have been convicted of certain crimes, such as kidnaping, financial fraud,forgery, and identity theft.  However, atthe time of our review, the pilot relied on applicants to self‑report thisinformation, and SSA lacked plans to evaluate its effectiveness in preventingprogram abuses.  We have recommended thatSSA conduct such an evaluation, and the Agency has concurred.

     SSA also faces challenges in monitoring reppayees’ use of beneficiary’s funds, which is time‑consuming and often requiresstaff to follow up on accounting reports via multiple mailings, telephonecalls, and even face‑to‑face meetings. To better leverage its resources, the Agency has taken steps tostreamline this process by allowing payees to submit online records ‑‑ reports.  SSA has also adopted a risk‑based, electronicapproach for some of its other reviews to better target those payees with ahigher likelihood of misusing benefits.

     Despite these efforts, changingdemographics and a likely steep increase in the number of beneficiaries who mayneed rep payees in the future will further strain program operations.  However, to date, SSA has done little toposition itself to address this challenge. Specifically, SSA has not taken steps to project the future need forpayees, the likely characteristics of beneficiaries, or the resources that willbe needed to administer the program.  Inour report we recommended that SSA conduct such analyses, and SSA has agreed todevelop additional data.

     And finally, to address growing demands forthe work, we consulted with various experts in identifying additional optionsSSA could consider to increase its pool of rep payees and better target itsmonitoring activities.  Such optionsinclude permitting a broader range of organizations to collect fees for servingas a payee, reducing monitoring requirements for custodial parents, and enhancingcoordination with other state and local organizations that serve similarpopulations.  However, experts and otherstakeholders identified trade‑offs for each, mostly related to balancing SSA’sdesire to streamline and simplify the program with the need to protectbeneficiaries from abuse.

     SSA has acknowledged that changes to the reppayee program are needed, and has considered some options.  However, the Agency has not fully assessedtheir potential benefits, costs, and feasibility of implementation.  Given the magnitude of the workload challengesassociated with the rep payee program, we have recommended that SSA develop andtest a range of alternatives to streamline and improve the program for the longterm.  The Agency concurred with ourrecommendation.  We look forward toworking with them as they proceed in this regard.

     Mr. Chairman, this concludes mystatement.  I am happy to answerquestions that you or other members of the subcommittee may have.  Thank you.

     [The statement of Mr. Bertoni follows:]

**********INSERT1**********


     *Chairman Johnson.  Thank you. Did you go to Pennsylvania and talk to them?

     *Mr. Bertoni.  I did.

     *Chairman Johnson.  Thank you.

     Ms. Greene, you are recognized.


STATEMENT OFLATINA BURSE GREENE, ASSISTANT DEPUTY COMMISSIONER FOR RETIREMENT ANDDISABILITY POLICY, SOCIAL SECURITY ADMINISTRATION

     *Ms. Burse Greene.  Chairman Johnson, Ranking Member Becerra, andmembers of the subcommittee, thank you for inviting me to discuss the SocialSecurity Administration’s representative payee program.  I am LaTina Burse Greene, Social Security’s AssistantDeputy Commissioner for Retirement and Disability Policy.

     Early on, Congress recognized that somebeneficiaries were incapable of managing their benefits, and directed us toappoint representative payees to receive and manage benefits for them.  Today, around 5.9 million representativepayees manage $72 billion annually for 8.4 million beneficiaries.  Just over half of these beneficiaries areminor children.

     Mr. Chairman, you are absolutely correctthat we must do better, and we are committed to doing everything we can toensure that we select a responsible representative payee who will use benefitpayments for the beneficiaries’ best interests.

     Let me emphasize that in most casesrepresentative payees serve their beneficiaries well and without incident.  Yet we continue to expand our risk‑basedapproach to improve the ways in which we identify, select, and monitorpayees.  We have implemented severalinitiatives to advance the payee program, including the majority of theNational Academy of Sciences’ 2007 recommendations.

     When selecting payees, we evaluate anapplicant’s qualifications, including the applicant’s relationship to andconcern for the beneficiary.  Inaddition, we look for any factors that could disqualify a person from servingas a payee.  For example, a person whohas committed Social Security fraud may not be a payee.

     We continue to advance the strength of ourselection process.  For instance, we arepiloting a new policy in our Philadelphia region that prevents applicants whohave been convicted of certain serious crimes from ever serving as apayee.  Later this month we will expandthe pilot in the Philadelphia region to include use of an electronic system toobtain criminal information on payee applicants.

     When monitoring payees, we look forassurances that a payee is performing adequately, and we perform our monitoringactivities using several methods.

     First, most representative payees submit anannual accounting report listing how they used benefit payments.  Payees can complete and submit the form onthe Internet.  We have reviewed thosepayees who provide questionable responses, or do not respond.

     Secondly, we conduct periodic on‑sitereviews of state mental institution payees, organizational payees serving morethan 50 beneficiaries, and individual payees who serve more than 15beneficiaries.  For payees that do notfall into these categories, we perform targeted reviews.  To this end, we have developed misusepredictive models that select payees for review who have characteristicsindicating a higher likelihood of potential funds misuse.

     Third, we contract with third parties likethe National Disability Rights Network to help us review payees who serve largenumbers of beneficiaries, have complex records, and whom we suspect aremisusing funds.

     And last, we have developed an onlinemisuse tracking system that allows our field office employees to track allallegations of misuse, from the initial contact to a formal misusedetermination.  The system also tracksour progress in collecting misused funds from payees.  And although we have done much to improve theprogram, we continue to work closely with our partners at the GAO and OIG.  They have made several suggestions forimproving our representative payee program.

     As an example, GAO’s report cites thegrowing number of people who may need payees in the future.  To address that, our researchers willestimate the future number and characteristics of people in need of payees, andwill use the data to inform our long‑term strategic thinking.  Recently we established a RepresentativePayee Strategic Team to facilitate and advance our strategic approach toimprove how we administer the payee program, including further exploringoptions recommended by GAO and others. And we will also work with the Administrative Conference of the UnitedStates to evaluate state guardianship practices, and whether it would beappropriate and practical for us to share data with state entities.

     And finally, we need your help to maintainand improve the payee program.  GAO andothers have proposed sensible policy changes that would requirelegislation.  Also, we need sustained,adequate funding to implement many of the suggested proposals.  Like our other important workloads, we mustrely primarily on trained, dedicated employees to interview and monitor themillions of persons who serve as payees.

     Again, thank you for inviting me totestify, and I am happy to answer any questions you may have.

     [The statement of Ms. Burse Greenefollows:]

**********INSERT2**********


     *Chairman Johnson.  Thank you for being here.

     Mr. Cerano, welcome.  Please go ahead.


STATEMENT OFELMER L. CERANO, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, MICHIGAN PROTECTION AND ADVOCACY SERVICE,ON BEHALF OF THE NATIONAL DISABILITY RIGHTS NETWORK

     *Mr. Cerano.  Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman, and thankyou for the committee ‑‑ to the committee for this opportunity topresent.  I am Elmer Cerano, theexecutive director of the Michigan Protection and Advocacy Service, and I amalso on the board and serve as the treasurer of the National Disability RightsNetwork, NDRN.

     NDRN is a nationwide organization that ismade up of the protection and advocacy systems from every state, the U.S.territories, as well as the District of Columbia and the Native Americantribes.  The protection and advocacysystems were mandated by Congress in 1975, and we have been working very hardever since.

     I have been working with the beneficiariesof Social Security since the early 1970s, with the ARC of Maryland, with theUnited Cerebral Palsy Association of Detroit, with the Pennsylvania protectionand advocacy system, Michigan protection and advocacy system, and I also haveserved on the board of NISH for the last 19 years, and currently serve as theimmediate past chair of that organization.

     I am here to testify on behalf of thebeneficiaries of Social Security who have representative payees, and on theimportant work that is done by the P&A networks, protection and advocacynetworks, around the country related to resolving problems of abuse, neglect,and exploitation by representative payees.

     My written testimony has a lot more detailthan what I will do verbally, but I do want to highlight two specificissues.  One is the need to expand themonitoring capacity, and the other is more in‑depth recruitment and intensifiedand vigorous training for representative payees.

     Over the years I have seen many examples ofrepresentative payees that are simply not working in the best interests oftheir beneficiaries.  And theserepresentative payees come from nonprofit organizations, friends, guardians,family members, and even parents.  Inother words, there is no one type of representative payee that ensuresintegrity.  We have seen both problemsand heroes in all of those classifications. This is why the effective monitoring and recruiting and training areabsolutely essential.

     In 2009, the Social Security Administrationfound 32 men who were working at the Henry’s Turkey Farm in Iowa that wereliving in horrendous conditions.  Theturkey farm was also the employer and the rep payee for all 32 men.  Social Security, to their credit, veryquickly responded to the situation at the turkey farm and recognized theindependent and unique nationwide reach of NDRN to assist in the process ofprotecting others from such types of exploitation.

     Social Security contracted with NDRN andits national network of protection and advocacy services to monitor therepresentative payees.  And, as of lastMarch this current year, there were ‑‑ over 7,000 beneficiaries havebeen interviewed, and over 1,500 rep payees have been ‑‑ reviews havebeen conducted in group homes, in board and care homes, in nursing facilities,in governmental agencies, in disability service organizations, and in shelteredworkshops.  It quickly became evidentthat many representative payees try very hard to follow the rules.  However, many others do not.

     After the reviews are done by theprotection and advocacy service, we do send the information to Social SecurityAdministration for their follow‑up.  TheP&A’s also do follow‑up investigations on problems that are noted duringthe reviews and their visits.  We findissues related to living conditions, eligibility for other services, access toservices, and so on, that we do follow up on.

     The major areas of concern that we find areimproper accounting of funds, the commingling of funds into operating accounts,the poor or non‑exist fiscal record‑keeping, and the lack of receipts forexpenditures.  The representative payeestell us that they need more training on the rights of beneficiaries.  Well, that is what we do.  We do training.  We need to figure out ways to decrease theincidents where they simply say, “We didn’t know the rules” that lead tosome of these questionable practices.  Weneed to expand the pool of vetted, trained, representative payees from whichthe beneficiary can make a selection and have some choices as to who they wantas their rep payee.  We need bettercoordination between federal agencies to enhance the protection of rights forbeneficiaries of Social Security: Department of Labor, the Veterans Administration, the U.S. JusticeDepartment.

     I also recommend that the custodial parentshould still be required to file to become a representative payee, and thatthey still be required to file financial reports annually.

     Thank you very much.  I will be happy to answer any questions thatyou may have.

     [The statement of Mr. Cerano follows:]

**********INSERT3**********


     *Chairman Johnson.  Thank you, sir.  We need some better rules here in the House,too, maybe.

     Ms. Greene, how long you been with the service, Social Security?

     *Ms. Burse Greene.  Approximately 20 years.

     *Chairman Johnson.  Okay. Why did Social Security pick Wilkes Barre to handle this kind ofsituation?

     *Ms. Burse Greene.  Handle ‑‑ I am sorry.  You mean the accounting?

     *Chairman Johnson.  Yes. Everything goes through Wilkes Barre, does it not?

     *Ms. Burse Greene.  All of the accounting forms go through theWilkes Barre data center.  And so ‑‑

     *Chairman Johnson.  Why?  Imean you all keep asking for more people, and more ‑‑

     *Ms. Burse Greene.  So initially ‑‑ thank you.  So initially, when we receive the accountingforms, they are submitted to us by paper. Although the forms ‑‑

     *Chairman Johnson.  To Baltimore or to Wilkes Barre?

     *Ms. Burse Greene.  To Wilkes Barre.  To Wilkes Barre.

     *Chairman Johnson.  Okay.

     *Ms. Burse Greene.  So, when those paper forms are submitted tous in paper form, we have a very robust scanning operation in the Wilkes Barredata center.  And so, those forms arethen scanned into the system.  And thesystem does an electronic review of the forms.

     *Chairman Johnson.  You don’t have that capability inheadquarters?

     *Ms. Burse Greene.  We do not have that capability inheadquarters.  That is correct.

     Now, remember the folks in Wilkes Barre areperforming a clerical function for us. Again, they are merely scanning the forms in.  And, as the system does its electronicreview, the system generates alerts. Okay?  And alerts come in twoforms.  Either the alerts are generatedwhen individuals have not responded to our request for the annual accountingform ‑‑ and the individuals in Wilkes Barre will make telephone callsor attempt to contact those individuals who have not responded.

     But then the system also generatesexceptions when, in fact, there are questionable responses to the form.  Those responses could come in the form of,you know, there may be some anomalies in terms of what was reported in the pastversus what is being reported for this particular accounting year.  And in those situations, those cases are thensent out to the field, so that the field can then handle all of thoseexceptions.  So the exceptions and theinteractions with the payees are not done necessarily at the Wilkes Barre datacenter.  They perform primarily aclerical function.

     And so, going back to your point as to whywe need the resources, we need the resources primarily because we have to makecapability determinations for all ‑‑

     *Chairman Johnson.  Yes, I understand that part of it.  What I want to know is why it didn’t happenin headquarters instead of Wilkes Barre. Can you all do that at headquarters?

     *Ms. Burse Greene.  We do not have a robust scanning operation toreceive all of the accounting forms that we receive.

     Now, if you are referring to the Westoncase, and what went wrong ‑‑ are you referring to the Weston case,trying to figure out ‑‑

     *Chairman Johnson.  All of them.

     *Ms. Burse Greene.  Okay. Well, the reality of it is that whenever there are ‑‑ wereceive applications to serve as a representative payee, that applicantundergoes a face‑to‑face interview with someone in our field office.  And they are asked very detailedquestions.  They are also asked abouttheir criminal history.  And the realityof it is that SSA does not have access to criminal history data, so we rely onself‑reporting.

     *Chairman Johnson.  Well, how did Ms. Weston, who was a convictedmurderer, become a representative payee in the first place, then, if you all doall that?

     *Ms. Burse Greene.  Through deception.

     *Chairman Johnson.  Through what?

     *Ms. Burse Greene.  Through deception.  The reality of it is that when she underwentthe application process, and we specifically asked her in each instance inwhich she submitted an application to serve as a rep payee whether you havebeen convicted of a felony or any type of crime that has resulted inimprisonment over a year, she responded in the negative.

     *Chairman Johnson.  So you all don’t check on them after you getthat response on paper?

     *Ms. Burse Greene.  SSA does not have access to criminal historyinformation.  We have a database calledPUPS.  I can’t tell you exactly what thatstands for, but it is basically information that we receive indicating whethersomeone is imprisoned.

     We also receive data, or have data readilyavailable, as to whether someone is a fugitive felon or not.  We do not have access to criminal historyinformation.  Thus, the reason whySenator Casey in December of 2011 submitted a legislative proposal at ourrequest to allow us to gain access to the FBI’s NCIC information.  And to the best of my knowledge, thatproposal died in committee.

     *Chairman Johnson.  You can’t ask the FBI for that information?

     *Ms. Burse Greene.  We have been told we cannot use that data forthe purposes of administering ‑‑

     *Chairman Johnson.  No, but you can’t ask them if a person is acriminal, has a criminal history or not?

     *Ms. Burse Greene.  We do ask whether or not they have a criminalhistory.  And it is up to the person, theapplicant, to be forthright with us.

     *Chairman Johnson.  People lie a lot, you know.

     *Ms. Burse Greene.  That is absolutely correct.  And that is why we have, on our own,developed a relationship with Lexis/Nexis to obtain information through theirAccurint Program to try to obtain criminal history information.  And we will ‑‑

     *Chairman Johnson.  Okay. My time is about to expire.  Mr.Bertoni, Social Security plans to complete its pilot program evaluation inFiscal Year 2014.  That is three yearsafter this Weston case broke.  Why is ittaking Social Security so long to find an answer that works?

     *Mr. Bertoni.  I think the timeline ‑‑ the answerto that is probably best left to the Social Security witness.  But what I would say is that our mainquestion or concern is that why has it taken so long for the agency to pursuethird‑party verification information. And in our view, that probably should have been built into the pilotfrom the start.

     So, now they find themselves, three yearsout, just now beginning to stand up a verification system that could reallyinform them as to the effectiveness of this pilot.  And they are not going to have thatinformation for some time.  So I wouldnot be surprised if they didn’t have enough information to even know whetherthe pilot was effective in 2014 and worthy of national roll‑out.

     *Chairman Johnson.  Thank you, sir.  Mr. Thompson, you are the only one left.  You want to question?

     *Mr. Thompson.  I do. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.  Thankyou for holding this hearing.  This isvery, very important.

     Mr. Cerano, you mentioned the turkey farmercase.  And I think you referred to it asinappropriate, how they handled this. Wasn’t it just downright criminal ‑‑

     *Mr. Cerano.  Yes.

     *Mr. Thompson.  ‑‑ what they did?

     *Mr. Cerano.  Yes, it was. It was exploitation and people living in horrific conditions.

     *Mr. Thompson.  Are they in jail now?

     *Mr. Cerano.  I believe they are, and there have been ‑‑ thereis a recent ‑‑

     *Mr. Thompson.  What happened to their holdings?  What happened to the turkey farm and theirfacility, do you know?

     *Mr. Cerano.  I don’t know. I assume that ‑‑ I don’t know that they are even still inbusiness.  But I know that there has beenrecently a settlement.

     *Mr. Thompson.  And ‑‑ but you don’t know if theywere able to keep that, or was it confiscated and sold, and these folkswho ‑‑

     *Mr. Cerano.  Well ‑‑

     *Mr. Thompson.  ‑‑ wereimprisoned paid back?

     *Mr. Cerano.  I don’t know the details of it, but I knowthat there were criminal charges filed and justice was sought.  It was criminal, absolutely criminal.

     *Mr. Thompson.  Ms. Greene, so you don’t do any backgroundchecks on people?  People just come inand say, “Yes, I am fine, I am law‑abiding, and put me in charge”?  There is ‑‑

     *Ms. Burse Greene.  That is correct.  Currently we rely on self‑reporting.

     *Mr. Thompson.  What is the ‑‑ what would be theproblem with doing background checks?

     *Ms. Burse Greene.  There is no problem with doing backgroundchecks.  We have ‑‑

     *Mr. Thompson.  Why don’t you do them?

     *Ms. Burse Greene.  We do not have access to the data in order toconduct the background checks.  And so,as I mentioned ‑‑

     *Mr. Thompson.  Is there a cost associated with doing thosebackground checks?

     *Ms. Burse Greene.  Absolutely there is a cost associated withit.  I mean there is a legal prohibitionat this point as to why we cannot use the FBI’s database.  And again, it is going to require legislationfor us to be able to gain access to that. And to this date, Congress has not acted on that proposal.

     And so, again, we have, on our owninitiative, worked with Lexis/Nexis to obtain criminal historyinformation.  We will begin piloting theuse of that criminal history information in the next two to three weeks orso.  And so, we are well on our way.  We absolutely agree with you that self‑reportingis not sufficient.  We have to have a wayto verify the information that is being provided to us, and we will begin pilotingthe use of the information that we receive from Lexis/Nexis within the nextcouple of weeks.

     *Mr. Thompson.  Well, I know if you buy a gun from a gunstore in this country, they have got a process that takes about 90 seconds, andthey can tell if someone is eligible to buy a gun or prohibited from buying agun.  And it is a pretty quickcheck.  And it would seem to me that, youknow, that would ‑‑ we need to figure out something to ‑‑ thatworks in this case, too.

     *Ms. Burse Greene.  We could really use your help in that regard.

     *Mr. Thompson.  I mean you ‑‑ for as long as I canremember, there is examples of people who abuse people for personal gain.  And it always surfaces in a newspaperstory ‑‑

     *Chairman Johnson.  I think the Democrat Congress is holding usup.  We have a provision to do that.

     *Mr. Thompson.  I don’t think we are holding you up.

     *Chairman Johnson.  Okay. Well, we will put it out there again. What do you think?

     *Mr. Thompson.  Mr. Bertoni, you went into great lengthsregarding the long‑term planning, which is a very important aspect of this,given the number of people ‑‑ and I think Mr. Johnson mentioned folkswith Alzheimer’s.  Those numbers arestaggering.  And the truth of the matteris, with my generation, there is a lot of us who are probably going to fallinto the category of needing some help along the way.  And that is important.  But I don’t think it is the whole answer.  There needs to be a lot more done to protectthis vulnerable group of people.

     Does the Social Security folks ‑‑ dothe Social Security folks have the resources that they need to adequatelyprotect these people, and do the background checks, and to make sure?

     *Mr. Bertoni.  I think it is reasonable to say that, giventhe long‑term hiring freeze, the attrition in the Agency, that they could usesome additional staff.  I don’t know whatthat number is.

     I also think they haven’t made a goodbusiness case as to the number of staff they need, the level of effort thatthey are going to have to be confronting down the road ‑‑

     *Mr. Thompson.  There is two things.  There is ‑‑ one is do they haveenough money to do their ‑‑ the caseload that they have now, and thenthe issue that you raised, the long‑term planning.  If the answer is no to the first one, theycertainly don’t have the money to grow their program to accommodate thisincrease in population.

     *Mr. Bertoni.  I can’t say whether they have adequate moneynow.  I think they have asked for moreresources.  I do know within their existingpot of resources they could work smarter. And again, this issue of ‑‑

     *Mr. Thompson.  Well, everybody could work smarter, but ‑‑

     *Mr. Bertoni.  ‑‑ of self‑reportedinformation ‑‑

     *Mr. Thompson.  We need to ‑‑ I think we need todrill down on this a little bit more, Mr. Chairman, because everybody can worksmarter with the resources we have.  Youcan in your office.  I can in mine.  You can in your home.  I can in my home.  I can in my own business.  That is just ‑‑ we can stipulatethat.  But we need to find out what theyneed, and make sure they get it.

     *Mr. Bertoni.  And that is why we have asked them to sort ofdo an assessment of the demographic characteristics of the beneficiarypopulation, what their impairments will look like, what their levels ofservices will need, how that translates to level of effort, number of rep payeesand staff needed, people, processes, and technologies, and then to come to youwith a good number, in terms of what that will cost.  They need a good business case so you havethe opportunity to make a data‑driven decision as to the amount, and whetheryou want to provide that money.  And thatis what we say in the report.

     *Chairman Johnson.  Thank you. The gentleman’s time has expired. Mr. Tiberi, you are recognized.

     *Mr. Tiberi.  Thank you. Mr. Bertoni, kind of following up on Mr. Thompson’s point, in terms ofself‑reporting, what are your thoughts about either a FBI background check orsomething to determine criminality?

     *Mr. Bertoni.  Sure, sure. I have been up here quite a few times talking about a lot of differentaspects of SSA’s program, and I have always said that the self‑reporting aspectof many of their programs is the weak link in the internal control chain.  So that needs to be addressed across theboard with SSA’s programs.

     The fact that they are now planning toaccess Accurint and to do those checks, that is a good thing.  Again, what we are concerned about is that ithas taken three years to get there.  Andit may take a considerable amount of time to get enough data to understandwhether this program is actually accomplishing its goal of preventing misuse.

     *Mr. Tiberi.  How about Social Security’s coordination withother programs?  How can that tie intothis ‑‑

     *Mr. Bertoni.  Sure.

     *Mr. Tiberi.  ‑‑ and be improved?

     *Mr. Bertoni.  We have long said that they could coordinatewith state courts, guardianship programs. We have a recommendation in 2011 that they should do everything possibleto try to share, have a two‑way sharing agreement with the states.  And to the extent that they need ‑‑ theybelieve they need additional legislative authority to work around the PrivacyAct restrictions, Social Security Act restrictions, that they should work withthe Congress to try to get those authorities.

     So, there is opportunity to leverageresources for both programs, to better screen their rep payees and theirguardians up front, and to ensure that they are bringing in good people intothe program.

     *Mr. Tiberi.  Now, you have found that they have notengaged in long‑term planning in the representative payee program.  In your opinion, what would be the risks ofnot doing that?  And why do you thinkthey haven’t done that?

     *Mr. Bertoni.  The short answer is they could be caught flat‑footedin terms of being able to provide service delivery down the road.  We have ‑‑ the risks, you know, areevident.  This program is growing.  The number of aging beneficiaries will be uparound 72 million in 2025.  They need toget out in front of these issues.  Andpart of that is, again, assessing the demographic characteristics of thepopulation, what they will need, the staff that will be needed, the people‑processingtechnology, number of rep payees.  Andthe goal ‑‑ answer here is how much it will cost.

     *Mr. Tiberi.  Ms. Greene, kind of following up on the GAOreport, what are the hurdles that we can help you with to accomplish what Mr.Bertoni and the GAO have identified?

     *Ms. Burse Greene.  So, I would agree with Mr. Bertoni that theone area that we definitely can improve in is coordination with state andfederal agencies.  And that was one ofthe recommendations of the NAS recommendations.

     And Acting Commissioner Colvin has takenthat challenge to heart.  I mean she haspersonally reached out to her counterparts at the other federal agencies toengage them in dialogue about how we can do a better job of coordinating withthose agencies, how we can share data in an automated way.  These issues have been discussed at the ElderJustice Coordinating Council.  We aretrying to understand exactly what the barriers are.

     Mr. Bertoni indicated there are somePrivacy Act implications there, as well. We are trying to have a really good understanding as to what thosebarriers are, so that we can be poised to present to the Congress and to this Committeesome legislative proposals that will help us move forward.  And she has set the tone, and we have takenthat charge.

     And with that said, we have engaged ACUS,the Administrative Conference of the United States, to help us engage the statecourts and some of the state agencies, so that we can have a betterunderstanding as to how they select payees, how they monitor their payees, sothat we can get a good gauge for whether or not there is some data to beshared.  So, we absolutely agree withyou.  We can do a better job there, andwe have already started the course.

     In terms of the long‑term strategy, I thinkI must just put some things into context here, okay?  So, for the last three years, we havereceived $1 billion less in the President’s budget.  We have lost over 10,000 employees sinceFiscal Year 2011 and we will lose more this fiscal year.  We currently expend 1,900 work years on reppayee activities alone.  That investmentin resources in representative payee activities will not increase unless wereceive additional funding and resources from Congress.

     So, until we receive those additionalresources, we have to think more strategically about how we target ourresources.  And this is where we needyour help, because right now we are beholden to statutory provisions that, inits time, were probably very relevant and very pertinent.  But the reality of it is that we arereviewing 6.5 million accounting reports every single year.  And the results are that in very limitedcircumstances are we finding any misuse as a result of reviewing thoseforms.  And NAS has determined, our IGhas determined, that spending approximately 600 work years reviewing theseforms is not a good use of resources. But it is mandated by law.  Sothat is where we could use your help.

     *Mr. Tiberi.  Well, my time ‑‑

     *Ms. Burse Greene.  Because we need some flexibility there sothat we can figure out the best way, the strategic way, to use those 1,900resources to protect our beneficiaries.

     *Mr. Tiberi.  Thank you. My time is expired, and we look forward to working with you.  One cautionary note out there, not to malignyour agency; thank you for what you do. But when scandals like the Social Security conferences spending millionsof dollars hit the media, people back home, I know where I live ‑‑ itpains us all, whether you are at the IRS, whether you are in Congress, whetheryou are at Social Security ‑‑ people tend to think we all have abunch of money around.

     And so, obviously, as you, as a seniorperson at Social Security focus on those resources, I just throw thatcautionary note out there, the challenges that we face in the future onfunding.  Yield back.

     *Chairman Johnson.  Thank you. You know we built another facility for you in North Carolina.  And it seems to me you got some extraresources in Baltimore.  But you aredoing this in Wilkes Barre.  And I stilldon’t understand that division of effort. But it seems to me you probably do have some resources, if you just lookaround.

     Mr. Renacci, you are recognized.

     *Mr. Renacci.  Thank you, Mr. Chairman.  And I want to thank the witnesses for yourtestimony.

     I do have some personal experience.  I operated nursing homes for almost 20 years,so I understand how difficult it is sometimes to get a payee.  And I realize the challenges that youface.  And I think, in operating abusiness, though, sometimes you have to use the resources smarter.  And I heard you both ‑‑ many of yousay that.  So I think that is thekey.  And we want to help you.  We want to be able to work with you to comeup with some of those answers.

     Mr. Bertoni, you talked in your testimonythat Social Security has tried to recruit more payees.  And I understand that some of the expertsinterviewed talked about contracting out that responsibility.  Can you tell me a little more about what theexperts thought about that idea?

     *Mr. Bertoni.  Sure, sure. I think the consensus was that perhaps this was resources that SSAprobably ‑‑ scarce resources that they didn’t want to dedicate tothis function, given the track record and already being able to recruitadditional rep payees.

     One suggestion was to use contractors whoSSA could use to go out, recruit, train, and hold them accountable fordeveloping a pool of qualified candidates. I don’t think there was consensus that that was the absolute way togo.  But it was an area to explore andpotentially to pilot it, proof‑of‑concept it to see if it is, number one, cost‑effective,feasible, and that they were the best model to pursue it.

     *Mr. Renacci.  Ms. Greene, have you analyzed thatoption?  What have you thought aboutit?  Was there any conclusions made?

     *Ms. Burse Greene.  So, as I mentioned, we have established astrategic team that will look at all of the options and recommendationspresented by GAO.  And that is one of theoptions that we will explore.

     But the reality of it is that ‑‑ andagain, we will evaluate the cost benefits and the feasibility of those options,as well.  But the reality of it is thatif you contract out that work, it still requires funds.  And so, unless we receive additional fundsfrom Congress to dedicate to this effort, we will be ‑‑ we arealready faced with making some very difficult decisions with the limitedresources and with the limited funds that we have.  And while it is definitely a nice thing todo, we are closing field offices, we are shutting them down earlier in the day,we are losing staff, we are making some very tough decisions.  And discretionary spending on things that arereally nice to do I am not quite certain will rise to the top.

     *Mr. Renacci.  Well, keep in mind ‑‑ and again, Iappreciate that you are even looking at it. Sometimes contracting out can help eliminate some of the cost and burdenthat the Administration has.  So, you know,it is not extra money sometimes, it is using resources more appropriately.

     You also mentioned the pilot program, and Ibelieve that pilot program was put in place to bar individuals that committedcertain crimes from being eligible payees. GAO recommended to access whether or not a criminal bar pilot actuallyreduces the incidents of benefit misuse in the long run.  Has the SSA implemented that recommendation of assessing some type of program to understand whether it isworking?

     *Ms. Burse Greene.  We absolutely will evaluate the pilot.  Right now, again, the pilot has beenimplemented in five States and the District of Columbia.  Right now we are trying to ‑‑ again,it is all based at this point on self‑reporting.  And so, what we are trying to get a feel forare the various state variations in the way crimes are defined, trying toensure that there is some consistent application for this policy.  And then, within the next two weeks, we willthen also allow them to access the Lexis/Nexis Accurint data.  And at that point we will then evaluatewhether the use of the barred crimes list, as well as the use of theLexis/Nexis Accurint tool will actually prevent misuse.  And so we will evaluate both of those pilotstogether.

     *Mr. Renacci.  So the answer is that is something you aregoing ‑‑

     *Ms. Burse Greene.  Absolutely. We have concurred with that recommendation.

     *Mr. Renacci.  And I know there was talk about ‑‑ Ithink Mr. Cerano talked about representative payees commingling funds.  Can you tell me what SSA is doing to reducethese occurrences?

     *Ms. Burse Greene.  We use them as teachable moments.  And so, when those types of circumstancescome to our attention, commingling of funds, payees failing to notify theAgency when a beneficiary is working ‑‑

     *Mr. Renacci.  But if you find that is occurring, what doyou do? 

     *Ms. Burse Greene.  We contact the payee, and we use it as ateachable moment.  We contact them, weexplain to them the rules and the procedures with regard to how to handle thefunds, that they must keep them in separate accounts.  What are the rules for reporting work?  So we use those as teachable moments ‑‑

     *Mr. Renacci.  But that is after.  I was actually looking proactively, insteadof reactively.

     *Ms. Burse Greene.  Okay.

     *Mr. Renacci.  Proactively, what are you doing?

     *Ms. Burse Greene.  When an applicant is approved to serve as a reppayee, we sit down with them, we talk to them about their roles andresponsibilities, and we provide them with material, again, that emphasizeswhat their roles and responsibilities are. So we provide training to them before they even embark on theirresponsibilities.

     *Mr. Renacci.  Thank you. I yield back.

     *Chairman Johnson.  Thank you. Mr. Becerra, you are recognized.

     *Mr. Becerra.  Thank you, Mr. Chairman.  And to the witnesses, thank you so much.  Enlightening, very enlightening.

     Ms. Greene, coordinating with otheragencies.  You mentioned that tryingto ‑‑ SSA is trying to do that more. That is very important.  Can we dosomething?  Can you give us a report backsoon on what is being done?  I think oneof the frustrations we have is that we only get the testimony and we hear aboutthe issues, we hear about some of the progress, but we are not there on theground the way you are.  Can you agree tocome back to us at some point soon ‑‑ soon being a reasonableinterpretation of the word ‑‑ so that we know that SSA really istrying to figure out a way to coordinate better with some of these agencies, sothat we can deal with all of these issues that come up with theserepresentative payees?

     I don’t think any one of us wants to hearany more stories of individuals who had their money swindled from their handsand pockets.  So, anything that you cando to accelerate an opportunity for us to sit with you to find out whatspecifically SSA is doing to try to better coordinate with agencies that arerelevant to this issue, that would be great.

     *Ms. Burse Greene.  You have my commitment.

     *Mr. Becerra.  Excellent. You mentioned ‑‑ you were, I thought, very clear in some ofyour remarks about the difficulties that SSA faces when it comes to meeting thechallenges here.  Quick question.  My sense is that dealing with representativepayees, making sure that there is a appropriate representative payee, makingsure that there is good follow‑through, and that the beneficiary is gettinggood service from the representative payee, is not just some paper task thatgoes quickly.  It sounds to me like it islabor‑intensive on the part of SSA.

     *Ms. Burse Greene.  Oh, it is labor‑intensive.  And pretty much all of those requirementsrequire a face‑to‑face interaction.  Andso, again, we are engaging in face‑to‑face interaction when we are making acapability determination.  We aremaking ‑‑ having face‑to‑face interaction when we are makingsuitability determinations.  We arehaving face‑to‑face interaction when we are training these payees.  We are having face‑to‑face interaction whenwe are out there doing on‑site reviews, conducting these targeted reviews.

     And so, there is a lot of face‑to‑faceinteraction that can’t be done via automation, but requires some dedicated,trained employees to do the job for us.

     *Mr. Becerra.  So you are helping these representative ‑‑ or prospective representative payees — understand the law andgetting trained up so they can do this. You are interviewing these folks to make sure that they arequalified.  You are spending a lot oftime with them.

     *Ms. Burse Greene.  Absolutely.

     *Mr. Becerra.  Okay.

     *Ms. Burse Greene.  Again, we spend, like, 1,900 work years on reppayee activity alone.

     *Mr. Becerra.  And this is done mostly through your localoffices, your field offices.

     *Ms. Burse Greene.  Absolutely, they are.

     *Mr. Becerra.  Now, what was the statistic you mentionedabout the staffing right now in your local offices?  What is going on with ‑‑ as aresult of these budget cuts to your SSA budget?

     *Ms. Burse Greene.  Well, we are closing offices, we areshortening hours.  We ‑‑ therehas been a ‑‑ there has been service deterioration on all of ourservice channels.

     And so, look.  The budget has impacted Social Security invery significant ways.  Our Acting Commissioneris having to make some very tough decisions on how to spend the limitedresources that we have.  And allocatingresources to things that are just nice to do, we have been told is notacceptable.  We are focusing on thatwhich is mandatory, which, I am sure, you can appreciate.

     *Mr. Becerra.  Mr. Cerano, thank you for being here.  Question for you.  In your opinion ‑‑ and you havedone this for quite some time, working with folks and representing folks whoare disabled, who need assistance ‑‑ what has been your relationshipwith SSA over the years?  Are theyworking this in a way that gives you confidence that they are trying to makesure that they do the best job possible when it comes to finding goodrepresentative payees for Americans who need that help?

     *Mr. Cerano.  Yes, absolutely.  They are doing the best job they can with theresources that are available.  Thereviews that we do are given to us by Social Security.  They have already targeted the rep payee foradditional review.  We go in and we do,then, some labor‑intensive stuff with face‑to‑face interviews with the rep payee,as well as with the beneficiaries.

     In Michigan, we have served over 56 ‑‑ doneover 56 reviews, and interviewed over 208 beneficiaries.  We are finding that about 48 percent of thereviews that we do, we have questions about some of the financial dealings.  So they were already targeted by SocialSecurity Administration; we are doing the additional follow‑up and giving themback to Social Security.

     *Mr. Becerra.  Well, I hope you will continue to do that.

     *Mr. Cerano.  Thank you.

     *Mr. Becerra.  Mr. Bertoni, one final question I have.  Ms. Greene mentioned flexibility, that there aresome requirements that they have that seem to be somewhat outdated, that ifthey had more flexibility they could actually be smarter in the way they dotheir work.  Any comment on that?

     *Mr. Bertoni.  Yes. I think several of the options that weput on the table would require a law change, would allow them to calibratetheir monitoring, to calibrate the reviews of the accounting reports.  Not all rep payees are created equal.  Some are more risky than others.

     *Mr. Becerra.  Yes.

     *Mr. Bertoni.  So it makes sense to take a risk‑basedapproach to this population.  So we wouldsupport that.  I have supported it inother programs and other times I have testified in other aspects.  So it is a way to work smarter.  I understand the resource issue.  But again, to wring out efficiencies fromwhat they have been dealt.  It is apolicy question as to whether there will be more resources.  But in the interim, there is opportunitieshere.  And I think through theirlegislative office, legislative proposals, they could work with the Congress tocreate some flexibilities.

     *Mr. Becerra.  Excellent. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.  I yieldback the balance of my time.

     *Chairman Johnson.  There is a lot of paperwork that goes intothat.  It seems to me we overdo it insome areas and we don’t identify the areas that really need to be lookedat.  But if you all can figure out a wayto do it, we will sure help you.

     Mr. Brady, you are recognized.

     *Mr. Brady. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.  One, thisis an important hearing to hold.  Thankyou for doing that.  Secondly, I don’tbuy the excuse, “the sequester made me do it.”  This has been a problem that has been aroundfor years.  And recommendations to solveit have been around and languished for years. They didn’t start in March.  And Idon’t think we have taken the adequate steps to protect these payees.

     And I know, Ms. Greene, you talk about nothaving enough money for discretionary activities.  But it seems to me these people handle themoney for seniors with dementia, with Alzheimer’s, with no capability of takingcare of themselves.  If that isn’t apriority within your agency, what is a priority?

     I want to put this in perspective, just sothat I understand what we are dealing with. We have six million representative payees currently today and it isgrowing.  What ‑‑ how manycases of fraud or abuse were identified last year?

     *Ms. Burse Greene.  Just pulling out some numbers.

     *Mr. Brady. Sure.

     *Ms. Burse Greene.  So in Fiscal Year 2012 we referred to the Officeof Inspector General about 16,000 cases, of which they opened approximately 562cases and sentencing resulted in approximately 261 of them.  Thus far this fiscal year, we have referredto the Office of Inspector General 7,600 cases, of which 136 have beensentenced so far.

     *Mr. Brady. What are the numbers this year did you say, Ms. Greene?

     *Ms. Burse Greene.  Thus far this fiscal year about 7,700.

     *Mr. Brady. Of the 16,000 that were referenced, why were so few pursued?  Out of 16,000 referred, excuse me, why were562 taken action on?  What was thecriteria? 

     *Ms. Burse Greene.  I would have to defer to the Office ofInspector General in that regard.

     *Mr. Brady. Okay.

     *Ms. Burse Greene.  But, obviously, there are additional casesthat are not ‑‑ not all cases are referred to the Office of InspectorGeneral.  And in ‑‑

     *Mr. Brady. But the more serious ones are?

     *Ms. Burse Greene.  The more serious ones are.  And so, we could provide for the record theexact number ‑‑ the total universe of misuse cases over the lastseveral years ‑‑

     *Mr. Brady. Well, what I am actually looking at is, of the 16,000 serious cases thatwere referred, why were only 562 pursued, and what criteria was used, and whatdropped them off the radar, going forward.

     Secondly, is that consistent with the yearbefore?  I mean is there a trendoccurring in the number of cases identified?

     *Ms. Burse Greene.  Unfortunately ‑‑

     *Mr. Brady. Smaller, larger?

     *Ms. Burse Greene.  Correct. Unfortunately, I do not have Fiscal Year 2011 data.  But we would be more than willing to providethat information to you for the record.

     *Mr. Brady. Can I ask you this, Mr. Bertoni? Do you think, just using the 16,000 figure ‑‑ I don’t knowwhat percentage that would be , do you think that is the range of fraudand abuse?  I am not looking for anumber, but what is your gut feel on the real problem we have got?

     *Mr. Bertoni.  I don’t have real confidence in thatnumber.  It is only fraud and abuse onceyou are aware of it.  And it is onlyfraud once you have obtained a conviction. So it is a cascading effect.  Ifyou don’t have procedures in place to find it that are sufficient, I don’t knowif you can know the universe.  I think itis probably larger than some of the one percent figures that we have been ‑‑ Ihave seen kicked around.  But I don’tknow what that number is.

     But given what I know about what they do,their processes for monitoring overseeing, I could see where it would bedifficult to capture the full range of fraud and abuse.

     *Mr. Brady. Could it be double that amount, do you believe?

     *Mr. Bertoni.  Possibly, but I don’t want to ‑‑

     *Mr. Brady. No, no, no, I am just trying to get the whole ‑‑ and thesingle most important thing we could do to identify that range and prevent itwould be what?

     *Mr. Bertoni.  Again, I think moving away from self‑reportingand relying on recipients and beneficiaries to do the right thing is key.

     I will give an example.  The Social Security Protection Act of 2004prohibits anybody that has spent more than a year in jail from cashing thecheck of another.  And that wouldbe ‑‑ Ms. Weston would have fallen into that category years ago.  She chose not to report the fact that she wasincarcerated over a year ago for over a year, and there were no processes inplace to identify that.

     So, we take this all the way back.  Perhaps this would have never happened hadthere been a more rigorous verification process in place.

     *Mr. Brady. The discussions today about whether tying into the background check whenyou are purchasing a weapon or, under the President’s new health care law, thenew central data hub has access from five different agencies, includingDepartment of Justice, checking on incarceration, you know, and other criminalbackground issues.  Are there somereadily available avenues that we could tie into without hiring 10,000 moreworkers?

     *Mr. Bertoni.  I think you could tie into a lot moreadditional databases that aren’t even classified as criminal.  The Do Not Pay list in Treasury has a rangeof databases that the Administration could use to identify folks who areperhaps not of good character, at least, if not convicted of a crime,bankruptcy, other types of financial type of ‑‑

     *Mr. Brady. Financial red flags that ‑‑

     *Mr. Bertoni.  Red flags, correct.

     *Mr. Brady.  ‑‑ we ought to beaware of.

     *Mr. Bertoni.  There are databases.  The database that they are tapping into, agreat ‑‑ I don’t want to call ‑‑ a great step towardsincreasing integrity.  Again, notperfect, not entirely comprehensive, but it is more than they have now.

     *Mr. Brady. Okay.

     *Chairman Johnson.  Thank you.

     *Mr. Brady. Mr. Chairman, thank you.

     *Chairman Johnson.  Thank you. Mr. Kelly, you are recognized.

     *Mr. Kelly. I thank the chairman and thank you all for being here.

     I was reading in the overview and it says,”The SSA appoints a representative payee when a beneficiary is eitherunder the age of 15 or unable to manage the direct management of his or herbenefits.”  And if I am reading thiscorrectly, and it says, “The SSA seeks whenever possible to identify afamily member, a friend, a legal guardian, a conservator, or any person whoshows a strong concern for the beneficiary,” and these people are oftenreferred to as individual payees.

     Now, Ms. Greene, 85 percent of theserepresentative payees are parents or spouses, is my understanding.  Over half of those representative payees areminor children.  So we know they havethis qualification of being a family member, friend, or having a genuineconcern.  And every year these familieshave to submit a report to Social Security about how the benefits are beingused.

     Now, in 2008 and 2009, SSA supportedlegislation to Congress to exempt parents and spouses from this requirement,saying that there is little evidence that these payees are prone to misusingbenefits.  So does SSA still support thattype of proposal with appropriate safeguards?

     *Ms. Burse Greene.  So again, I will mention that just theaccounting mechanism, just generally speaking, isn’t effective, whether it isfor parents or whether it is for any of the payees.  It is not effective.

     *Mr. Kelly. But I mean if qualifying these folks is a problem and if we know, look,if it is my son or daughter or my wife or, you know, somebody that I have greatconcern for, individual concern ‑‑ because I think Americansabsolutely always want to protect our most vulnerable, and this is a programthat is supposed to do that ‑‑ then the question becomes, okay, weare doing that, and we are allotting money to that, but the people who aresupposed to handle it for these folks that can’t do it themselves ‑‑ ifwe qualified them in that way, then doing this report, would that not lightenyour burden of these things that you are trying to find out?

     Because if there is little belief that theyare actually misusing the funds, then wouldn’t it be easy to move those folksout of that category?

     *Ms. Burse Greene.  I ‑‑ from a policy perspective,that makes all the world of sense to me. And it also saves about 270 work years for us to redirect that in a moretargeted way.

     But the trade‑off to that is that we nowhave data available that we did not have available in 2009 to actually evaluatewhether the underlying premise is true, and that family members are ‑‑ havea lesser likelihood or a lesser propensity towards misusing the funds.  We now have data that would allow us to testthat underlying premise, and that is exactly, I think, what we need to dobefore we submit that proposal again.

     *Mr. Kelly. I agree with you.  I have watchedthese folks.  Getting paid to do a job isone thing.  Having your heart in the jobis quite something else.  Now, if we areable to do that, if we are able to set aside parents and people that reallyhave a genuine concern, how many ‑‑ that would lighten yourload.  And you don’t have to answer metoday, but how many people would that free up to do other things that you needto do?

     *Ms. Burse Greene.  Oh, that is ‑‑ and that is why thatproposal is so appealing to us at SSA.

     *Mr. Kelly. Okay.

     *Ms. Burse Greene.  It will allow us to save work years dedicatedto that process.  And again, use thoseresources in a more targeted way to identify payees who have a higherpropensity to misuse the funds.

     *Mr. Kelly. Sure.

     *Ms. Burse Greene.  But again, I think that we need to step back,now that we have data available, and evaluate to see whether or not theunderlying premise is true.

     And again, there are trade‑offs, and thereis no perfect option.  And there may besituations where parents misuse the funds. But again, it is a trade‑off, and we have to make sure we strike thatright balance.

     *Mr. Kelly. But that is considerably reduced when it is a parent or, you know,a ‑‑

     *Ms. Burse Greene.  Custodial parent or a custodial spouse.

     *Mr. Kelly. Yes.  And I was looking at thenumbers ‑‑ and Mr. Bertoni, maybe you can help me with this, becauseif I am looking at what we pay these folks to be the payee, it saysup to 10 percent of the monthly benefit. I guess it says for social organizations it is $76 per month, ifthe person is an experienced drug or addiction or alcoholism. Who do youget for that kind of money?  I mean for$4 a day, who do you get?

     *Mr. Bertoni.  It is actually 10 percent of the benefitamount, up to $39, maximum.

     *Mr. Kelly. Thirty‑nine dollars?

     *Mr. Bertoni.  Maximum for most ‑‑

     *Mr. Kelly. For what period of time?  For howmuch?

     *Mr. Bertoni.  Per month.

     *Mr. Kelly. Per month, $39 a month?

     *Mr. Bertoni.  For each beneficiary it is 10 percent, up to$39 a ‑‑

     *Mr. Kelly. So who do you attract?

     *Mr. Bertoni.  I can’t speak to ‑‑ that isprobably a more better question for SSA. But I would say that ‑‑

     *Mr. Kelly. Well, shoot.  That is justover ‑‑ what is it, $1.30 a day? You know, we talk about people not wanting to work for minimum wage. Imean seriously.

     *Mr. Bertoni.  Well, there is no question it is difficult tofind rep payees ‑‑

     *Mr. Kelly. Well, there is a correlation between what you are willing to pay andwhat you are willing to get.  In myposition in life, there is nothing more expensive than cheap labor.  If we have untrained people, if we haveuneducated people, if we have people who are not qualified, and we have them inpositions of authority and responsibility, and then we wonder why it fails, weneed to go back.  This is, like,Education 101.

     So I would appreciate anything you aredoing ‑‑ and I got to tell you. I think you do wonderful work. But the numbers are getting so overwhelming.  This population is growing.  If we can’t handle today, and we can’t getgood people doing it, what are we going to do in the future?  And I don’t know that you can throw enoughmoney at it.  I just don’t know that itis fixable.

     I am sorry, Mr. Chairman.  I yield back. But thank you all for being here. And, Mr. Chairman, thank you.

     *Chairman Johnson.  Thank you for your questions.  I don’t know if I would do it for a dollar aday, would you?

     *Mr. Kelly. Only if it was my wife, daughter, grandchildren ‑‑

     [Laughter.]

     *Mr. Kelly. No, seriously.  I am beinghonest.  Hey, listen, I would do it fornothing.  We would do that fornothing.  But $1.30, I don’t think I havemet anyone Mr. Becerra, you and I aren’t going to do it, right?  I mean I love to help, and sometimes ourhearts are willing, but our wallets are weak.

     *Chairman Johnson.  You got it.

     *Mr. Kelly. So we got to find a way to fix this.

     *Chairman Johnson.  Mr. Griffin, you are recognized.

     *Mr. Becerra.  Great questions.

     *Mr. Griffin.  Thank you, Mr. Chairman.  It gets back, Mr. Kelly, to your earliercomment about if your heart is in it, then you may be willing to do it, but youare not going to do it for the money. That is for sure.

     Thank you all for being here today.  Appreciate all that you all do.  I understand that, as a general matter, everyagency would like more money.  I havenever seen, never found, one agency that is not interested in having moremoney.  So we get that, that is sort of aconstant.  But we just got throughdiscussing, separate from the money ‑‑ or you just got throughdiscussing with Mr. Kelly a way to innovate and to use money more wisely andtime more wisely.  And I am sure thatthere are 100 more examples that we can find. Some of those you can implement, and some of them we have to do legislatively.

     I would encourage you to, if there isever ‑‑ through the proper channels, of course ‑‑ but ifthere is ever an opportunity to innovate and to do better and ‑‑ wherewe have to do something statutorily, let us know.  Because we certainly want to facilitatethat.  And I am reminded of the hearingwhen we talked about the 1976 accounting system that Social Security has.  So, clearly, there is room to improve there.

     But I wanted to ask you about how youcommunicate with representative payees. What is the range of ways?  Iassume, obviously, mail and phone and all. But, very specifically, how do you communicate with these representativepayees?  And what improvements do youthink we can be making in our ability to communicate with them?  Because it would seem to me that the morefrequent communication you can have with people, the more of a check, or thebetter the quality of the service.  Couldyou comment on that, please?

     *Ms. Burse Greene.  Sure. Thank you for the question.  Andso, our first interaction with the rep payee is at the point in time when theyare applying to serve as the rep payee. And we use that as an opportunity to make sure that they understandbefore we actually appoint them as the re‑payee, that they understand whattheir responsibilities are, and what their obligations are to SSA in thatcapacity.

     Once they are appointed the representativepayee, again, we have another conversation with them about roles,responsibilities, expectations.  And thenwe provide to them a point of contact in the field office to whom they can goand direct questions if, indeed, they have any. Obviously, when we are conducting our on‑site reviews, that is anotheropportunity to engage the rep payee.  Andagain, instances of misuse is very rare. And so ‑‑ but there are other issues that may arise duringthose reviews.  For instance, perhapscommingling of funds, not reporting over‑payments.  And again, that is a teachable moment that weutilize to engage the rep payee to remind them of their responsibilities.

     And, obviously, our partner here, NDRN,they are the boots on the ground.  Theyare interacting with the rep payees, as well. And so we try to utilize not only our face‑to‑face opportunities withthem to engage them to answer their questions, to provide training to them, butwe have our partners here, NDRN, as well.

     And just one further point is that we havedeveloped quite a number of training materials for the rep payees to utilize,be it pamphlets or brochures.  We have avery informative website that they can go to to obtain information as well, tounderstand their reporting obligations. We have interacted with many of the advocate groups to make ‑‑ helpus disseminate information to the rep payees, in addition to trying to get moreindividuals to volunteer to serve as rep payees in addition to trying to getmore individuals to volunteer to serve as rep payees, so we try to utilize allof the resources and the networks that we have at the state and local andfederal levels to educate the rep payees. But we rely primarily on our face‑to‑face interactions at the locallevel.

     *Mr. Griffin.  Do you want to add to that?

     *Mr. Cerano.  And the face‑to‑face interactions arecritical.  The information we get isinformation that was given to us by Social Security.  We go out and then do the additional follow‑upinterviews with the rep payee, as well as the beneficiary.  And then we report back to Social Security asto where we think they need additional follow‑up.  So, yes, the face‑to‑face stuff is absolutelycritical.

     *Mr. Griffin.  And I apologize if I missed this earlier, butwhat sort of filtering or background checking goes on here?  Anything at all, in terms of criminal recordor drug tests, or anything like that?

     *Mr. Cerano.  We don’t do that.  That is done when they apply for the reppayee program through Social Security.

     *Mr. Griffin.  Okay, so Ms. Greene? 

     *Ms. Burse Greene.  Right. And so, as we talked about earlier, right now we are relying primarilyon self‑reporting.  We do have informationavailable to us about, you know, whether or not the applicant is currentlyimprisoned, or whether or not they are a fugitive felon.  But we have been working with Senator Caseyto try to get some legislation passed to grant us access to the FBI’s NationalCrime Information Center information.

     We have not had any success there, but weare working currently with Lexis/Nexis Accurint to receive criminal historydata, and we will be utilizing that information on a pilot basis within thenext few weeks, just to verify the type of information that we are receiving,and basically verify that against some of the information that is being self‑reported.

     *Mr. Griffin.  I mean it is not quite an employer‑employeerelationship, but there are a lot of analogies, certainly.

     Looks like I am out of time, Mr.Chairman.  Thank you for having thishearing.

     *Chairman Johnson.  The British call it a sticky wicket.

     [Laughter.]

     *Chairman Johnson.  Thank you to our witnesses for your testimonytoday, and to the Members who are still here. I want to be sure this important program is given the attention thatAmericans expect and deserve.  Therefore,I ask that within 30 days Social Security submit to the subcommittee itsresponse to the recommendations of the National Academies report, please.  And the one on improving the Social SecurityRepresentative Payee Program.  And if arecommendation is not being implemented, we want to know why, please.

     We have heard of a number of legislativechanges to improve the representative payee program.  I look forward to working with all of you,and hope you will come back, Mr. Bertoni, and with better news next time.

     And I appreciate the testimony of all threeof you, and thank you for being here. With that, the committee stands adjourned.

     [Whereupon, at 11:20 a.m., the subcommitteewas adjourned.]

SUBCOMMITTEE: Social Security