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The Growing Need for Representative Payees, and How You Can Help

Each year, millions of older adults become victims of financial exploitation. Protecting those who are most vulnerable—including those with cognitive impairments—is essential to ending the cycle of elder abuse.

Created in 1939 as an amendment to the Social Security Act, the Representative Payee Program is one tool that can help. Representative Payees assist individuals with physical and mental impairments, as well as minor children, who cannot manage or direct the management of their Social Security or Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits.

Who qualifies to be a Representative Payee?

A Representative Payee is an appointed individual or organization who is deemed appropriate by the Social Security Administration (SSA) to manage the Social Security or SSI benefits for a single beneficiary or multiple beneficiaries.

Whereas a family member may be the Representative Payee for their loved one, an Organizational Representative Payee (some of which operate on a fee-for-service basis) will often manage benefits for large numbers of beneficiaries. Other examples of payees include friends, nonprofit organizations, mental health service residences/facilities, and social services agencies.

What are the responsibilities of a Representative Payee?

When a Representative Payee is appointed, that individual, group, or organization is responsible for using the benefits to pay for the current and future needs of the beneficiary, and saving any benefits not needed to meet current needs.

Representative Payees are required to provide Social Security with a short form (accounting), which shows expenditures for food and housing and separately, personal spending (recreational expenses, clothes, etc.). The payee must ensure that the beneficiary’s bills are paid and that the beneficiary does not have a high level of excess income, which could disqualify them from SSI benefits.

A growing need

According to the 2016 issue brief Representative Payees: A Call to Action, more than 8 million Americans have an appointed Representative Payee managing their Social Security or SSI benefits. SSA recognizes that there is a growing need for older adults to have a Representative Payee, as baby boomers are the fastest-growing segment of the U.S. population. Inevitably, there will be a growing segment of aging adults with both physical and cognitive disabilities in need of assistance with managing their SSA benefits.

What can you do to help?

First, you can serve as a volunteer Representative Payee. To find opportunities near you, perform this simple web search: Volunteer Representative Payee programs in (fill in your location).

Many organizations and even local government agencies administer Representative Payee volunteer programs. For example, the Coutagamie County (WI) Department of Health and Human Services runs a volunteer Rep Payee program.

In Arlington, VA, the County Department of Human Services office will train Representative Payees to also serve as legal guardians for incapacitated adults, who are clients of the department. Arlington County offers both in-person and virtual training for their volunteer Payees. However, there is no universal approach to training or support across the country. Programs vary in size, capability, and oversight.

You also can advocate for someone in need by becoming familiar with your local Area Agencies on Aging or your local Adult Protective Services offices. Both of these resources provide wraparound supports for older adults and adults with disabilities.

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Randy Feliciano

About Randy Feliciano, MPA

Randy Feliciano is a Program Manager with NCOA's Center for Benefits Access, where he provides training and support to a network of Benefits Enrollment Centers across the U.S. Prior to joining NCOA, Randy worked for the Department of Human Services in Arlington, VA, where he ran a legal guardianship program and a Personal Advocate Service.