Wednesday, May 18, 2011

What is a Representative Payee?

By Aaron Heath

What is a Representative Payee?

I was talking to a friend the other day who was asking me about what we do as a company. I said ‘Well, we do financial literacy and first time homebuyer education, foreclosure prevention, credit and bankruptcy counseling, debt management, behavioral health services, homeless prevention, conservatorship and have a representative payee program.’ To which he said, more or less, ‘representative what?’ causing me to realize that representative payee really is a strange combination of words to describe what it actually entails- although this is exactly what the Social Security Administration (SSA) calls it. So, as my third blog posting I have decided to explain exactly what it means to be a representative payee and why they are important.

A representative payee is someone who handles an individual’s Social Security benefits in the case that that individual is deemed to be incapable of handling the benefits themselves. Or more mundanely, I mean eloquently, defined by the Social Security website:

Social Security's Representative Payment Program provides financial management for the Social Security and SSI payments of our beneficiaries who are incapable of managing their Social Security or SSI payments.

These benefits include Retirement, Survivors and Disability Insurance (RSDI) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI). (More info about how to receive and who receives these benefits can be found here and here.) There are three basic reasons why SSA would assign a payee to a beneficiary:

  • They are a minor- under 18
  • They are deemed legally incompetent (by a doctor)
  • SSA determines that they are incapable of handling their money

Payees are responsible for ensuring that the beneficiary’s basic needs are met- food, shelter, spending money, etc… and that they have “a stable living environment.” The full list of their responsibilities can be found here. Their responsibilities include helping to make sure that these individuals stay off the streets, that they are reasonably housed, that they don’t get taken advantage of or spend all of their benefits on illicit substances, and that they have access to basic necessities. The stability that this program provides also results in a lower overall burden on public resources such as medical care and law enforcement.

In working with some of the payees from our department, I have seen what a tough job it can be. Payees DO NOT have power of attorney, so they often have to negotiate, compromise, explain, talk down, work with and make deals with our clients to help them understand what is going on with their money. After all it is THEIR money, and they let you know it. You can probably see how it can get pretty heated sometimes.

Here in Charleston, Family Services, Inc. has about 500 Representative Payee Clients. We work with the local social security office as well as several others from around South Carolina and in some cases Georgia. From what I can find there more than seven million Americans who have a representative payee, most of them minors.

Hopefully this was somewhat enlightening for you.

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