Dear Savvy Senior: Does Social Security offer special assistance to beneficiaries who find it difficult to manage their benefits? My aunt, who has no children, suffers from dementia and struggles to pay her bills and other financial chores. – Interrogative niece
Dear Curious: Yes, Social Security actually has a little-known program called the Representative Beneficiary Program that helps beneficiaries who need help managing their Social Security benefit payments. Here’s what you need to know.
Representative recipient program
Authorized by Congress in 1939, the Social Security Representative Beneficiary Program provides money management assistance to beneficiaries unable to manage their Social Security income. The beneficiaries who need this help are often elderly people with dementia or minor children who receive survivors’ benefits from Social Security.
Currently, over 5 million social security beneficiaries have representative beneficiaries.
Representative beneficiaries also administer benefits for nearly 3 million beneficiaries of Supplementary Security Income, a social security-administered benefit program for low-income people over 65 who are blind or disabled.
Who are the beneficiaries ?
A representative beneficiary is usually a relative or close friend of the beneficiary in need of assistance, but Social Security may also appoint an organization or institution for the role, such as a nursing home or social service agency.
The tasks of a representative beneficiary include:
>> Use the beneficiary’s Social Security or SSI payments to meet basic needs, such as food, shelter, household bills and medical care. Money can also be used for personal needs such as clothing and recreation.
>> Keep the remaining money from benefit payments in an interest-bearing bank account or savings bonds for the future needs of the beneficiary.
>> Keep records of benefit payments received and how the money was spent or saved.
>> Reporting to Social Security of any change or event that may affect the beneficiary’s payments (such as a move, marriage, divorce or death).
>> Report any circumstance that affects the beneficiary’s ability to perform their duties.
As a representative beneficiary, you cannot combine the beneficiary’s social security payments with your own money or use them for your own purposes. The bank account into which benefits are deposited must belong entirely to the beneficiary, with the beneficiary listed as a financial agent.
Some beneficiaries, usually those who do not live with the beneficiary, are required to submit annual reports to Social Security to account for the use of benefits. For more information on the responsibilities and restrictions associated with the position, see the Social Security publication “A Guide for Representative Payees” at SSA.gov/pubs/EN-05-10076.pdf.
How to get help
If you think your aunt might need a representative beneficiary, call Social Security at 800-772-1213 and make an appointment to discuss the matter at her local office. Applying to serve as a grantee usually requires a face-to-face interview.
Social Security may take other evidence into account in deciding whether a beneficiary needs a beneficiary and select the person to fill the role, including ratings from doctors and statements from relatives, friends and others. people able to give an informed opinion on the beneficiary’s situation.
You should also know that if you become the representative beneficiary of your aunt, you cannot collect a fee for doing so. However, some organizations that fulfill this role charge a fee, paid out of the recipient’s Social Security or SSI payments.
For more information about the program, visit SSA.gov/payee.
Jim Miller is a contributor to NBC-TV’s “Today” and the author of “The Savvy Senior”. Send your questions to Savvy Senior, PO Box 5443, Norman, OK 73070; or visit savvysenior.org.