Representative payees who are tasked with managing Social Security payments for many with disabilities would be subject to greater scrutiny under a proposal in Congress.

Lawmakers in the U.S. House of Representatives introduced legislation this week aimed at ensuring better protections for those who need assistance handling their Social Security or Supplemental Security Income benefits.

“The Social Security Administration has a big responsibility to make sure Americans who need help managing their benefits get it. But the program doesn’t always work the way it should. Too often, we hear stories about representative payees who take advantage of those they are supposed to help,” said U.S. Rep. Sam Johnson, R-Texas, who introduced the bill with Rep. John Larson, D-Conn.

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The legislation calls for additional reviews of payee performance and requires that protection and advocacy groups in each state — federally-mandated organizations that provide legal assistance and advocate for people with disabilities — handle such evaluations on behalf of the Social Security Administration.

In addition, the bill would free parents or spouses living with a person with a disability from completing an annual accounting form for representative payees. And, the proposal would codify a policy barring those with certain criminal convictions from serving as payees.

About 6.2 million individuals or organizations act as representative payees on behalf of some 8 million beneficiaries, according to the Social Security Administration’s Office of the Inspector General. The representatives are assigned when the agency determines that a person’s mental or physical condition prevents them from being able to manage their benefits.

Lawmakers backing the bill said that a wide array of groups including the Government Accountability Office, the Social Security Administration’s Office of the Inspector General, the National Academy of Sciences and the Social Security Advisory Board have raised concerns about the Social Security Administration’s handling of the representative payee program.

The Social Security Administration said it does not comment on pending legislation.

However, advocates with the National Disability Rights Network — an umbrella group for protection and advocacy organizations across the country — said the legislation is much needed.

“Unfortunately, government investigations — some of which were conducted by our own network of protection and advocacy agencies — uncovered representative payees who have stolen or misused funds, exploited, neglected and even abused the people with disabilities they were supposed to be helping,” the group said. “We believe (the) need for independent oversight of the representative payee program is clear.”

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