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SSA needs more tools to deal with representative payee fraud

Many of those who qualify for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSD) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) suffer from mental impairments that might prevent their being able to properly handle their money. In these cases, the Social Security Administration (SSA) allows another person to collect their benefit checks, and they are supposed to use the funds for the beneficiaries care.

This is known as the Representative Payee program, and the SSA's control and oversight of the program has been questioned, as a recent incident from the Philadelphia area has resulted in federal criminal charges against a woman who acted as representative payee for four individuals whom she held in a basement "dungeon." 

The investigation of the incident showed she had operated for years preying on disabled persons and manipulating the SSDI and SSI system to obtain their benefit checks totaling in the thousands of dollars.

The SSA implemented a pilot program in the Philadelphia area to more closely examine individuals who were representative payees for criminal histories, as they are prohibited from being representative payees. The investigation found that less than one percent were ineligible.

The question, of course, is whether the number is so low is due to there being so few violations of the regulations, or if the SSA's tools are so imprecise that they cannot detect the fraud. The Philadelphia incident of the "dungeon" only was discovered by accident, when a landlord investigated a barking dog in a basement and found the victims locked in a room.

The ongoing problem for the SSA is how do they allocate their limited resources at a time when their budget is under constant attack and subject to reduction and staffing cuts.

Source:, "Social Security expands background checks," Wendy Ruderman and Barbara Laker, March 2, 2014

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