For most Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) beneficiaries, the Social Security Administration (SSA) issues monthly checks directly to the recipients. However, where the recipients are incapable of making their own financial decisions, the SSA sends the checks to third parties, known as representative payees, who are charged with managing the funds for the beneficiary. Among other tasks, the representative payee is supposed to maintain the funds in a separate account, cooperate with the beneficiaries’ caregiver and family members, and use the funds exclusively for the recipient’s benefit.

Representative payees can play an invaluable role for Social Security disability beneficiaries, managing their finances and ensuring their benefits are used to best protect their needs and interests. However, these payees act with little oversight and sometimes abuse their positions.

In response, Congress recently passed legislation giving disability advocates new tools to improve protections for Social Security disability beneficiaries,

Federal law mandates that every state fund a separate agency or nonprofit organization, known as a Protection and Advocacy (P&A) agency, to monitor and investigate violations of federal disability discrimination laws.  

Under the new Strengthening Protections for Social Security Beneficiaries Act, signed into law by President Trump on April 13, 2018, Congress must allocate additional annual grants to each P&A so they can conduct onsite reviews of payees, as well as submit annual reports to the SSA. The SSA must also enter into separate agreements with state agencies to shore up protections for minor beneficiaries in state foster care systems, and the legislation codifies an existing policy that bans people with felony records from serving as payees.

In addition, the bill allows beneficiaries to designate a representative payee in advance and takes steps to reduce the administrative burden for representative payees who are the beneficiary's parent living in the same household or their spouse, rather than a third-party payee. Specifically, these relative payees will no longer have to provide annual accounting reports to the SSA.

The new bill is not the only recent federal effort to improve oversight of payees. Last year, the SSA launched a training program for payees, covering everything from the payee program policies to signs of abuse and financial exploitation, among other topics.

“For too long dishonest representative payees have exploited and abused people with disabilities without fear of being discovered,” said Curt Decker, executive director of the National Disability Rights Network, the national membership organization for state P&A agencies, in a news release. “That stops today. We are thrilled to see that Congress and the Administration have acted to protect the more than eight million Americans who currently have representative payees.”

The videos in the SSA’s Representative Payee Interdisciplinary Training series can be accessed here.