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SSA announces expanded screening program for representative payees

Many of our readers in Wisconsin and elsewhere might vividly remember the so-called “dungeon case” that emerged with all requisite horror in late 2011. A number of people were subsequently charged with nearly 200 criminal counts deriving from their treatment of several mentally disabled people.

As the sordid details came to reveal, those disabled persons were held against their will in a Philadelphia basement in squalid conditions, while their captors collected and spent their Social Security Disability checks.

As a result of that nightmare, the Social Security Administration launched a pilot program in the Philadelphia area in June 2012 aimed at ensuring that such exploitation would never happen again.

The program focused on “representative payees,” persons who are authorized to collect and distribute disability benefits on behalf of a recipient who, because of a mental or physical challenge, needs help with the process.

The goal of the pilot program: to discover and render ineligible would-be representative payees who have committed any of 12 enumerated crimes. Those crimes include serious infractions such as murder, kidnapping, sexual assault, robbery, false imprisonment and fraud.

Government officials recently stamped the pilot program as a success (even though it flagged only about one percent of all representative payee applicants) and have voiced an intent to expand it across the country.

U.S. Sen. Bob Casey (D-PA), lauds that decision, calling it “a good step” and noting that additional efforts need to be made to protect vulnerable recipients of federal benefits.

Casey seeks to ensure that a criminal background check is routinely performed on every representative payee applicant.

Source:, "Social Security expands background checks," Wendy Ruderman and Barbara Laker (Philadelphia Daily News staff writers), March 3, 2014

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