Improving the Social Security Representative Payee Program
Serving Beneficiaries and Minimizing Misuse
THE NATIONAL ACADEMIES PRESS
THE NATIONAL ACADEMIES PRESS
500 Fifth Street, N.W. Washington, DC 20001
NOTICE: The project that is the subject of this report was approved by the Governing Board of the National Research Council, whose members are drawn from the councils of the National Academy of Sciences, the National Academy of Engineering, and the Institute of Medicine. The members of the committee responsible for the report were chosen for their special competences and with regard for appropriate balance.
This project was supported by Award No. SS00-04-60082 between the National Academy of Sciences and the Social Security Administration. Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the sponsors.
International Standard Book Number-13: 978-0-309-11100-3
International Standard Book Number-10: 0-309-11100-5
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Copyright 2007 by the National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
Suggested citations: National Research Council. (2007). Improving the Social Security Representative Payee Program: Serving Beneficiaries and Minimizing Misuse. Committee on Social Security Representative Payees, Division of Behavioral and Social Sciences and Education. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press.
THE NATIONAL ACADEMIES
Advisers to the Nation on Science, Engineering, and Medicine
The National Academy of Sciences is a private, nonprofit, self-perpetuating society of distinguished scholars engaged in scientific and engineering research, dedicated to the furtherance of science and technology and to their use for the general welfare. Upon the authority of the charter granted to it by the Congress in 1863, the Academy has a mandate that requires it to advise the federal government on scientific and technical matters. Dr. Ralph J. Cicerone is president of the National Academy of Sciences.
The National Academy of Engineering was established in 1964, under the charter of the National Academy of Sciences, as a parallel organization of outstanding engineers. It is autonomous in its administration and in the selection of its members, sharing with the National Academy of Sciences the responsibility for advising the federal government. The National Academy of Engineering also sponsors engineering programs aimed at meeting national needs, encourages education and research, and recognizes the superior achievements of engineers. Dr. Charles M. Vest is president of the National Academy of Engineering.
The Institute of Medicine was established in 1970 by the National Academy of Sciences to secure the services of eminent members of appropriate professions in the examination of policy matters pertaining to the health of the public. The Institute acts under the responsibility given to the National Academy of Sciences by its congressional charter to be an adviser to the federal government and, upon its own initiative, to identify issues of medical care, research, and education. Dr. Harvey V. Fineberg is president of the Institute of Medicine.
The National Research Council was organized by the National Academy of Sciences in 1916 to associate the broad community of science and technology with the Academy’s purposes of furthering knowledge and advising the federal government. Functioning in accordance with general policies determined by the Academy, the Council has become the principal operating agency of both the National Academy of Sciences and the National Academy of Engineering in providing services to the government, the public, and the scientific and engineering communities. The Council is administered jointly by both Academies and the Institute of Medicine. Dr. Ralph J. Cicerone and Dr. Charles M. Vest are chair and vice chair, respectively, of the National Research Council.
This report is dedicated to the memory of committee member Eileen P. Sweeney, who died June 13, 2006.
Eileen was a nationally recognized expert on issues affecting people with disabilities who receive federal welfare benefits. From the time she was in college through her work as a senior fellow at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities in Washington, DC, she sought to improve the lives of children, battered women, senior citizens, poor people, and people with disabilities. In 2005 and early 2006, she cochaired the Social Security Task Force of the Consortium for Citizens with Disabilities, a coalition of national organizations advocating on behalf of the 54 million Americans with disabilities.
This report and the committee’s recommendations were deeply influenced by Eileen’s work, values, and sensitivity and commitment to the rights of all Social Security beneficiaries. The committee was fortunate to have Eileen as a member.
COMMITTEE ON SOCIAL SECURITY REPRESENTATIVE PAYEES
BARBARA A. BAILAR (Chair), Consultant in survey methodology,
NANCY COLEMAN, Consultant in philanthropy, aging, and social policy,
Chevy Chase, MD
DAVID S. CORDRAY,*
Departments of Public Policy and Psychology, Vanderbilt University
CATHRYN DIPPO, Consultant in survey methodology,
CAROLL L. ESTES,
San Francisco Institute for Health and Aging, University of California at San Francisco
Survey Research Laboratory, University of Illinois, Chicago
JEFFREY S. LUBBERS,
Washington College of Law, American University
SARAH M. NUSSER,
Department of Statistics and Center for Survey Statistics and Methodology, Iowa State University
ROBERT SANTOS, Senior Institute Methodologist,
Urban Institute, Washington, DC
EILEEN P. SWEENEY,**
Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, Washington, DC
PAMELA B. TEASTER,
Graduate Center for Gerontology, University of Kentucky, Lexington
CHARLES P. PAUTLER, JR., Study Director
KIRSTEN K. WEST, Senior Program Officer
LINDA A. DePUGH, Administrative Assistant
Many people and groups made significant contributions to this report. Without their willing help, expertise, and dedication to completing the project’s many tasks in a quality and timely manner, we would have a far less complete report.
Our first thanks go to the staff of the U.S. Social Security Administration (SSA), who helped us understand the Representative Payee Program and patiently answered our many questions about policies and regulations. The staff was also invaluable in helping us secure clearance from the U.S. Office of Management and Budget (OMB) for the committee’s survey and in diligently and expediently helping us with obtaining crucial security clearances for Westat employees, who conducted the survey, including more than 100 field interviewers. Security clearances were required because of the confidentiality of information that was collected in the survey of representative payees and beneficiaries.
SSA staff graciously set up work space for us at their Rolling Road Commerce Center in Baltimore. Here, they gave us access to the Representative Payee System (RPS). They tutored us on the RPS and facilitated file acquisitions and specific administrative data requests. They also made arrangements for us to visit field offices, regional offices, and processing centers.
Among the SSA staff, many individuals deserve our specific thanks. Michael Zambonato was not only the SSA project officer, but he readily gave us his expertise and insights in many situations.
Sherrye Walker, director of the Office of Beneficiary Determinations, and Patti Gavin on her staff made sure we had everything we needed to do our work. Marg Handel, supervisor of the Representative Claimant Team in the Office of Payment Policy, assisted us with extraction of monthly benefit amounts for our study participants.
For their help with the RPS, the case study of misusers, and the lump-sum payments analysis, we thank Kevin McCahill (team leader, now retired), Barbara Benjamin, Lynn Brown, Chris Garcia, Pat Gregus, Bryan Mueller, and Paul Sapia on the Representative Payment Monitoring and Evaluation Team, and on the Representative Payment Selection and Systems Team, Steve Auerback (team leader), Lavern Alston, Kevin Brennan, and Ray Hairston. We especially thank Betsy Byrd for not only her help on these projects, but also her assist with numerous special requests.
Debra Acord on the Special Projects Team and Mary Gibson in the Office of Eligibility and Enumeration Policy and the Eligibility and Evidence Team cheerfully came through for us again and again. Without their ingenuity and resourcefulness, we could not have successfully carried out the case study of misusers or made our invaluable site visits.
During the initial phases of our study, Carol Musil (now retired) was instrumental in easing our way through many SSA protocols and “how to get stuff done.”
Liz Davidson and Faye Lipsky on the Reports Clearance Team were instrumental in obtaining the timely OMB clearance for the survey.
We also thank Thomas Bell of Social and Scientific Systems, Inc., who worked under contract with the National Academies to perform onsite computer work at SSA. He worked in manipulating large administrative databases, retrieving much needed information from the SSA mainframe system with only minimal specifications, and creating sample files. He was of critical continuous support to our analysis efforts.
Westat conducted the survey for this report under contract with the National Academies. We are grateful to the many people who contributed to this very successful phase of our study, including co-project leaders Scott Crosse and Diane Cadell. We also thank staff from various areas at Westat, including Richard Sigman, Wendy Kissin, Michelle Scheele, Vicky Klementowicz, Mike Rhoades, Sheryl Wood, Joe Gertig, Tory Castleman, Miriam Aiken, and Ellen Herbold.
Finally, enormous thanks are due to the committee members and staff, who truly represent the best of the National Academies. The members brought extraordinary knowledge, experience, and commitment to the task,
and they gave unstintingly of their time. With almost a dozen face-to-face meetings and dozens of conference telephone calls, they contributed enthusiastically and critically to every aspect of the project, from the overall design of the tasks to the final conclusions and recommendations.
Keeping everything organized and on time was our invaluable study director, Bud Pautler. At every stage of the project, he laid out the plans and the questions, arranged innumerable site visits, drafted text, and did myriad other tasks that made our work possible and fun. He was assisted throughout by Kirsten West, on an interagency personnel assignment to the National Academies from the U.S. Census Bureau. Her quiet competence was a constant support for us. No question or task was too obscure for her; if some information or calculation was requested and was possible, she found it or did it. He was also assisted by Linda DePugh who made the meeting logistics work, processed committee travel arrangements, and helped with the production of this report. I am also indebted to Genie Grohman, who made significant editorial suggestions. I am deeply grateful for the opportunity to have worked with this group of talented and committed individuals.
This report has been reviewed in draft form by individuals chosen for their diverse perspectives and technical expertise, in accordance with procedures approved by the National Research Council’s (NRC) Report Review Committee. The purpose of this independent review is to provide candid and critical comments that will assist the institution in making its published report as sound as possible and to ensure that the report meets institutional standards for objectivity, evidence, and responsiveness to the study charge. The review comments and draft manuscript remain confidential to protect the integrity of the deliberative process. We thank the following individuals for their review of this report: Lu Ann Aday, Public Health and Medicine, The University of Texas, Houston; Peter Blanck, Burton Blatt Institute, Syracuse University; Eric Elbogin, Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, Duke University; Edward Lawlor, George Warren Brown School of Social Work, Washington University in St. Louis; Robert A. Moffitt, Department of Economics, Johns Hopkins University; John Monahan, School of Law, University of Virginia; David Weir, Institute for Social Research, University of Michigan.
Although the reviewers listed above have provided many constructive comments and suggestions, they were not asked to endorse the conclusions or recommendations, nor did they see the final draft of the report before its release. The review of this report was overseen by Tim Smeeding, Center for Policy Research, Maxwell School, Syracuse University, and Joe Newhouse, John D. MacArthur Professor of Health Policy and Management, Harvard University. Appointed by the NRC, they were responsible for making cer-
tain that an independent examination of this report was carried out in accordance with institutional procedures and that all review comments were carefully considered. Responsibility for the final content of this report rests entirely with the authoring committee and the institution.
Barbara A. Bailar, Chair
Committee on Social Security
Westat Survey Methodology and Survey Questionnaires (available online)
Program Questions to and Answers from the Social Security Administration
Guardianship Questions to and Responses from the Social Security Administration