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:
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:
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.