Monday, October 7, 2019
The GAO recently released a new report, Social Security Benefits: SSA Needs to Improve Oversight of Organizations that Manage Money for Vulnerable Beneficiaries. Here are the highlights:
What GAO Found
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.
To ensure organizational payees are managing funds appropriately, SSA uses several monitoring tools, including resource-intensive onsite reviews. Certain organizational payees, such as those that charge fees for their services or have 50 or more beneficiaries (high-volume), receive onsite reviews every 3 to 4-years. In contrast, payees that serve fewer than 50 beneficiaries (low-volume)—the vast majority—are selected for review based on their estimated likelihood of misusing beneficiary funds, and a relatively low percent of them receive onsite reviews (see figure). SSA uses a predictive statistical model to identify higher risk low-volume payees, but the model's effectiveness cannot be fully assessed by GAO or others due to missing documentation on how it was designed. SSA officials said they will update the model in the future, but do not have a time frame for doing so. Establishing such a time frame and documenting design decisions are key steps toward assessing the model's effectiveness.
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What GAO Recommends
GAO is making nine recommendations in this report, including that SSA: clarify how to assess complex suitability factors; assess requiring background checks for organizational payees; establish a timeframe for reviewing the predictive model and document design decisions resulting from that review; and establish timeframes for, and conduct revisions of the accounting form. SSA agreed with all nine recommendations and provided technical comments that GAO incorporated as appropriate.
The full report is available here.