According to the U.S. Government Accountability Office, nearly a million individuals relied on organizational payees to manage their Social Security benefits in 2018. Due to an aging population, more beneficiaries may need organizational payees in the future. These beneficiaries are among the most vulnerable because, in addition to being deemed incapable of managing their own benefits, they lack family or another responsible party to assume this responsibility.
The Social Security Administration (SSA) approves organizational payees—such as nursing homes or non-profits that manage the Social Security benefits of individuals unable to do so on their own—by assessing a range of suitability factors, such as whether the organizations have adequate staff to manage benefits for multiple individuals. However, GAO found that SSA’s policy does not specify how to assess more complex suitability factors, such as whether an organization demonstrates sound financial management.
Without clearer guidance, unqualified or ill-prepared organizational payees could be approved to manage benefits. Also, SSA does not currently require background checks for key employees of an organizational payee. In contrast, SSA requires background checks for individual payees—such as a relative or friend of the beneficiary. A comprehensive evaluation could help SSA determine whether and how to expand their use of background checks to organizational payees.
The GAO has made nine recommendations to the Social Security Administration to strengthen the protection for seniors whose benefits are being managed by an institution.