The Social Security Protection Act of 2004 temporarily expanded the practice of paying representatives' fees directly out of a claimant's benefits. This practice, known as fee withholding, was previously available only to attorneys in Disability Insurance (DI) cases. It has been extended to attorneys in Supplemental Security Income (SSI) cases, and to nonattorneys--who meet eligibility criteria--in both DI and SSI cases. The act also mandated that GAO examine (1) the professional experience of disability representatives, (2) how judges and claimants view representatives' performance, (3) how the implementation of fee withholding for nonattorneys has been viewed, and (4) the impact of fee withholding in the SSI program. GAO surveyed representatives and judges, and interviewed claimants and Social Security Administration (SSA), state, and other officials.
Recommendations for Executive Action
|Social Security Administration||1. The Commissioner of the Social Security Administration should monitor the effectiveness of the nonattorney eligibility criteria in continuing to ensure that only well-qualified representatives receive access to fee withholding, and if necessary adjust the experience standard or other criteria.|
|Social Security Administration||2. The Commissioner of the Social Security Administration should assess the extent to which representatives collect more than their authorized fee through a combination of state payments and fee withholding, and if necessary identify and implement cost-effective solutions to ensure that representatives either are not paid more than their authorized fee or return anything they receive in excess of their authorized fee.|
|Social Security Administration||3. The Commissioner of the Social Security Administration should continue to explore cost-effective changes that would address SSI benefit payment delays related to fee withholding in cases where recipients receive both SSI and DI benefits.|