SSA Representative Payee Program: Long-Term Strategy Needed to Address Challenges

GAO-13-673T Published: Jun 05, 2013. Publicly Released: Jun 05, 2013.
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What GAO Found

In summary, GAO found that SSA struggles to effectively administer its Representative Payee Program, despite steps the agency has taken to address its challenges in identifying, selecting, and monitoring representative payees. SSA field office managers in some offices said that due to increasing workloads and staff attrition they sometimes have to perform payee program duties that lower-level staff typically handle. SSA is also encountering increasing numbers of beneficiaries who may not have a suitable payee readily available. In an effort to address this challenge, SSA hosted a webinar to recruit additional payees. However, agency officials said this effort did not produce any new payees. SSA also faces challenges ensuring that payees who are selected are suitable for the task. In response, SSA has implemented a pilot program in its Philadelphia region to screen and bar payee applicants who have been convicted of certain crimes such as robbery and fraud to obtain governmental assistance. SSA said the focus of the pilot is to determine how easily these additional controls can be implemented. GAO also found that SSA faces challenges monitoring payees' use of beneficiaries' SSA funds--a time-consuming process. SSA has developed an electronic accounting process that allows payees to submit reports online, which saves staff time on handling and scanning paper reports. However, it does not lessen the need for SSA staff to review some of these reports. SSA has taken other steps to improve the administration of the program, but the OIG continues to designate the program as a major SSA management challenge. Some of the actions SSA has taken to improve administration of the Representative Payee Program align with goals in the agency's Strategic Plan. However, SSA has not developed a comprehensive plan for addressing the challenges this program faces over the long term.

Why GAO Did This Study

This testimony discusses GAO's recent work on the Social Security Administration's (SSA) Representative Payee Program. Representative payees--persons or organizations that SSA staff appoint to manage Social Security benefits for those who are unable to do so for themselves--play an important role in ensuring that Social Security beneficiaries' needs are met. In fiscal year 2012, about 5.9 million payees managed $72 billion in Social Security benefits for nearly 8.4 million beneficiaries. Since 2002, the number of beneficiaries needing a payee has increased by nearly 20 percent, and is likely to grow further as the population ages. This testimony is based on the report released today that describes the current and long-term challenges facing the Representative Payee Program and steps SSA has taken, or could take, to address them.

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GAO recommends that SSA systematically evaluate the effectiveness of the pilot to help ensure that it meets its intended purpose of preventing misuse, and that SSA develop a long-term strategy for addressing these challenges that includes developing and testing a range of alternatives that could streamline program processing. SSA concurred with this recommendation and said it is considering alternatives to streamline its program processing and enhance its monitoring.

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