Supplemental Security Income (SSI) is a program to help meet the basic needs of those who are disabled, elderly or blind, and who have limited resources and income. In cases where the recipient is under 18, has a disability which would prevent him from managing his own finances, or is otherwise deemed unable to handle managing his SSI benefits by the Social Security Administration (SSA), a representative payee may be named. The payee can be an individual -- usually a relative or other interested person -- an institution such as a nursing home, or some other type of facility or organization tasked with taking care of the SSI recipient's well-being.
At any time, the SSI recipient or the payee representative may ask for the payee representative to be replaced. If such a request is made by either party, the SSA will investigate the situation and make a determination.
Differences between Payees and Guardians
The representative payee is not a legal guardian in the sense that she has power of attorney in all of the recipient's affairs, though she could under a separate legal determination. In many cases, the payee is not even an individual, per se. Whether a person or an organization, the representative is charged only with making sure that the resources received from SSI are used in the best interests of the person receiving benefits, and that anything not spent on the SSI recipient is saved for her in a savings or similar account.
If You are the Representative Payee
Being a representative payee is a lot of responsibility. If you are no longer willing or able to be a representative payee, you must inform the SSA at once. You should have already received the case worker's contact information when you became the payee. Contact him and let him know you are no longer able to be a representative payee. You will also need to immediately return any of the SSI recipient's benefits, including cash and any interest paid in her savings account, to the SSA representative so the SSA can entrust those funds to a different payee. If you are not sure who the representative is, contact your local SSA office and it will be able to get that information for you.
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If You are the SSI Recipient
When you are the SSI recipient, you have a right to request that the representative payee be changed and to have the SSA investigate the situation and make a determination. You can make this request for a number of reasons, including but not limited to:
- Belief that your representative payee is stealing some of the money
- Simply not being able to agree with your payee about how your money should be spent
- Belief that your payee is mismanaging your money
Once you've made a request to change payees, the SSA will investigate the situation and make a determination of whether your payee should be changed. The SSA is usually willing to consider your preferences for who you would like as your payee representative, though it will make a final determination based on what it believes is in your best interests and on who is available to be a payee.