April 18, 2003
House Passes Legislation Improving Protections for SSI and SSDI Beneficiaries with Representative Payees
On April 2, the House of Representatives passed the Social Security Protection Act, H.R. 743, by a vote of 396 to 28. This bipartisan bill would make important improvements in the representative payee program for beneficiaries of the Supplemental Security Income (SSI) program and the Title II (SSDI) disability programs. It would also require the Social Security Administration to issue written receipts and establish a centralized computer file for beneficiaries' reports of earnings or changes in work status.
NAMI strongly supports this legislation as an important step to restore integrity of the Representative Payee program and to protect the interests of SSI and SSDI beneficiaries with severe mental illnesses who receive their cash benefits through rep payees. This legislation grew out of several high profile cases in which institutional representative payees were found to have illegally diverted cash benefits from SSI recipients. In these cases, beneficiaries were prevented from recovering back benefits that were they never received.
This is the third time the House has passed this legislation since 2000. Each time, the legislation has stalled in the Senate, or been derailed by extraneous provisions. On February 25, Senator Jim Bunning (R-KY) introduced an identical bill (S 439) in the Senate and action is expected soon in the Finance Committee.
NAMI also strongly supports the provisions in HR 743 that would require Social Security to establish a system to issue written receipts for earnings reports submitted by SSDI beneficiaries and a computerized system for tracking earnings. Over the years, SSDI beneficiaries have grown enormously frustrated in their efforts to accurately assess whether earnings from part-time work in a given month exceed the Substantial Gainful Activity (SGA) limit. Because Social Security is way behind in tracking earnings, beneficiaries can, through no fault of their own, go above limits in the program and be forced to pay back overpayments of benefits. Issuance of receipts from Social Security for submitted earnings reports will help provide a more accurate written record of earnings and help beneficiaries track their earnings. Likewise, a computerized tracking system at Social Security will help SSDI beneficiaries track earnings and use of -trial work period- months.
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.
- 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 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.
- Establishing penalties for impeding any SSA employee while acting in their official capacity.
- Expanding the current law prohibition on the use of Social Security or Medicare symbols, emblems, or references.
- Prohibiting individuals who fraudulently conceal work activity from being eligible for a trial work period.
- Allowing Federal courts to order a person who breaks the law relating to Social Security or to the SSI program to make restitution to the trust funds or general fund as appropriate.
HR 743 would also improve work incentives for individuals with disabilities to return to work by:
- Clarifying some provisions of the Ticket to Work and Work Incentives Improvement Act of 1999, including beneficiary access to assistance from the Protection and Advocacy System for maintaining a job.
- 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.