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Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Washington Lawmakers Seek Social Security Check Protections : Nov 2011

By Associated Press : Nov 21, 2011

WASHINGTON (AP) — Fourteen Republicans on the House Ways and Means Committee want more scrutiny of how the Social Security Administration oversees benefit checks sent to disabled adults and minors to make sure the money does not fall into the hands of predators.

A recent Philadelphia case found that a woman accused of locking mentally disabled people in a squalid basement was able to cash their benefit checks without being discovered by authorities.

For years, paroled murderer Linda Ann Weston brought several mentally challenged adults into Social Security offices to sign off as their representative payee, someone who helps manage their monthly benefits of about $600 to $900, authorities have said.

Advocates have said the case showed how vulnerable people with mental and physical impairments can be if they don’t have family or friends protecting them from predators attracted by their Social Security checks.

The lawmakers, in a letter on Friday, cited the “horrific example” of the Philadelphia case and asked the Government Accountability Office, which is Congress’ investigative arm, to evaluate the effectiveness of the Social Security Administration’s representative payee program for those who are legally incompetent or under the age of 15.

“The SSA’s oversight of representative payees remains a clear challenge,” wrote the lawmakers, including Rep. Sam Johnson, R-Texas, who is chairman of the Subcommittee on Social Security.

There are about 5.6 million representative payees managing about $61 billion annually for about 7.6 million beneficiaries in 2011, the lawmakers said.

Weston and three others were charged with kidnapping, false imprisonment and other offenses after her landlord stumbled onto the four victims in a foul-smelling boiler room last month.

Weston and her daughter, Jean McIntosh, 32; Weston’s boyfriend, Gregory Thomas; and Eddie “the Rev. Ed” Wright, are accused of preying on mentally disabled adults, locking them in the basement’s boiler room and wresting control of their disability checks.

Investigators say they are still working to discover the extent of the alleged scheme after finding more than 50 Social Security cards, power of attorney documents and other forms of identification.

There are rules governing representative payees, such as the requirement that they pledge to use the money only on the individual’s care and upkeep, and a requirement that they file yearly reports on how the money is spent.

But some of the rules lack enforcement. For example, people who have served more than a year in prison are ineligible to be representative payees, but the reporting is voluntary, and the Social Security Administration does not make use of independent background checks.

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