Published on: February 2, 2017
You may have heard about the Social Security Administration’s (SSA’s) Representative Payee Program, but not know much about it yet, such as:
- What it is;
- Who it’s for;
- How you can participate; and
- What the rules are.
Today, we’re going to take a closer look at this SSA program and, hopefully, answer some of the bigger questions you might have about it.
What Is the Representative Payee Program?
There are some cases where a disabled worker may not be able to manage his/her own finances because of his or her disability. To make sure these workers are able to take care of their basic financial needs, the SSA may assign a “representative payee” who collects the disabled worker’s Social Security checks and spends the money to cover the worker’s expenses.
In most cases, the representative payee is someone who is close to the disabled worker such asa a spouse, parent, child, or friend. However, there are qualified organizations that the SSA will use if they cannot find a friend or family member to act as a representative.
This program is for those retirement and disability beneficiaries who would not be able to handle all of their personal finances on their own.
What Does a Representative Payee Do?
A representative payee is charged with collecting your Social Security payments for you and using the money to cover your basic needs such as:
- Medical Expenses (including rehabilitation therapy for disabled persons)
- Personal Care/Hygiene
Once these expenses have been covered, the payee will then try to cover any past-due bills, buy extra goods/services for you, support your dependents, or save the excess money for later.
Representative payees have extra powers to negotiate and manage your Social Security benefits beyond what is granted by a power of attorney or a shared bank account. However, they do not have any authority over non-Social Security funds you may be receiving.
How Can I Participate?
Representative payees are not usually something that people receiving benefits ask for. In many cases, the SSA is alerted to your need for a representative payee by a concerned friend or family member or by information contained in your medical records.
Note: If you have a family member who you think has become unable to manage their Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) or Supplemental Security Income (SSI) payments, you can call the SSA to request an appointment to discuss your concerns at 1-800-772-1213 (TTY 1-800-325-0778).
Can I Be Forced to Use a Representative Payee?
If the SSA determines that you are unable to manage your money on your own, they may launch an investigation. Upon concluding the investigation, the SSA may determine that you are unable to keep up with managing your financial needs and mandate that you use a representative payee.
However, even if the SSA decides that you need a payee, you still have the opportunity to choose who it is. You can tell a Social Security representative if you have someone you would like to be your representative payee and, assuming that person is willing and able, the SSA will take your request into consideration.
What Happens if I Think My Representative Payee is Underpaying/Stealing from Me?
Representative payees are held to strict accountability standards. In all cases, a representative payee is asked to submit a written account of how they spent your SSDI and/or SSI benefits. However, there may be times where you aren’t sure if your representative payee is giving you all of your benefits.
If you think that the payee isn’t using as much money as he or she should for you, the usual first step is to talk to your payee about how they’re handling your money. They should be able to show you how much money you received from Social Security, what they spent on your needs, and what they did with the excess (such as putting it into your savings).
On the other hand, if you suspect that your representative payee is stealing money from your benefit payments, contact the SSA directly. The SSA will make an investigation into your representative payee’s use of your money to determine if they’re misusing or stealing your money.
Can I Request to Receive My Benefits Directly After I’ve Been Assigned a Payee?
If you currently have a representative payee, but believe you no longer need one, you can apply to start receiving your benefits directly. As the SSA points out: “You have the right to receive your own Social Security check unless SSA believes you are not capable of managing or directing the management of your money.”
In most cases, a representative payee is appointed because of a mental or physical condition that you have. To become your own payee again, you’ll have to demonstrate to the SSA that you are now mentally and physically capable of handling your finances.
Usually, this means providing the SSA with one of the following:
- A doctor’s statement documenting your change in condition that allows you to manage your money once again; OR
- A court order stating that the court believes you are capable of caring for yourself.
Other forms of evidence may also be considered, but the above examples are the most common.
Note: If you’re receiving SSDI benefits, the SSA may use the evidence you provide to reassess your eligibility for those disability benefits.
The representative payee system under the SSA doesn’t mean that you’ll get less money—it just means that you’ll have someone looking out for your financial needs.
If you have more questions about SSDI or SSI, please reach out to an experienced Social Security Disability advocate today!