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House Passes Social Security Protection Legislation
The House of Representatives on February 11 cleared the Social Security Protection Act (HR 743) by an overwhelming 402 to 19 margin. This action clears the legislation to go to the White House where President Bush is expected to sign it into law.
Background on HR 743
Approximately 8 million SSI and SSDI beneficiaries have representative payees, often family members or friends, who receive the benefits on behalf of the beneficiaries and have a responsibility to manage the benefits on behalf of these beneficiaries. HR 743 includes provisions to strengthen SSA’s ability to address abuses by representative payees. The provisions would:
- Require non-governmental fee-for-services organizational representative payees to be bonded and licensed under state or local law.
- Provide that when an organization has been found to misuse an individual’s benefits, the organization would not qualify for the fee.
- Allow SSA to re-issue benefits to beneficiaries whose funds had been misused.
- Allow SSA to treat misused benefits as "overpayments" to the representative payee or thereby triggering SSA’s authority to recover the money through tax refund offsets, referral to collection agencies, notifying credit bureaus, and offset of any future federal benefits/payments.
- Require monitoring of representative payees, including monitoring of organizations over a certain size and government agencies serving as representative payees.
- Require representative payees who are delinquent in filing annual accounting reports to receive the individual’s benefits in person at a local office.
- Disqualify as representative payees people convicted of offenses and imprisoned more than a year, and people fleeing prosecution, custody, or confinement for a felony.
HR 743 would also make improvements to the attorney fee payment system to help individuals with disabilities gain access to representation by:
- Extending the voluntary attorneys fee payment system to SSI claims and open this up to non-attorney claimant representatives (subject to SSA developing a certification plan for non-attorneys).
- Imposing a $75 cap (indexed for inflation) on the current 6.3% assessment on approved attorney fees for Social Security and SSI claimants.
The legislation would also further protect Social Security programs and individuals by:
- Requiring the Social Security Administration (SSA) to help people avoid overpayments by issuing receipts to beneficiaries who report changes in earnings or work status and by implementing a centralized computer file to maintain records of beneficiaries reports.
- Clarifying civil monetary penalty authority so that sanctions may be imposed against people who withhold material facts in order to obtain or increase benefits.
- Denying Social Security disability benefits to people fleeing prosecution, custody, or confinement for a felony, as well as probation/parole violators.
- Requiring the Commissioner to publish regulations that allow a waiver, where good cause exists, of the non-payment of benefits to fugitive felons and those in violation of parole or probation.
- Requiring individuals who provide Social Security-related services for a fee to explain in their solicitations that the SSA provides the services free of charge.
- Authorizing the Commissioner to refuse to recognize certain disqualified attorneys.
- Prohibiting individuals who fraudulently conceal work activity from being eligible for a trial work period.
HR 743 would also improve work incentives for individuals with disabilities to return to work by:
- Making important technical corrections to the Ticket to Work and Work Incentives Improvement Act of 1999.
- Clarifying the Work Opportunity Tax Credit so that it is also available to employers who hire a beneficiary with disabilities who is referred from any employment network, not just the State rehabilitation agency.