Financial Management Support for SSA Beneficiaries: Looking Beyond the Payee

by Annie Harper, Yale University

SSA beneficiaries who face difficulties in managing their money and struggle to meet their basic needs can be assigned a representative payee.  The payee receives the beneficiary’s income and ensures that their basic needs are met.  Having a payee has a positive effect on beneficiary health and well-being, but despite the availability of the program, some beneficiaries who are struggling to meet their basic needs do not have a payee, either because their difficulties have not been identified, and/or because they are resistant to handing control of their funds to someone else, fearing negative effects such as permanent loss of autonomy, or because they have not been deemed sufficiently incapable to be assigned a payee.  Some receive help informally but not within the payee framework.  Other than having a payee, no assistance is available to help beneficiaries with their finances.

There is a large grey area between those who are clearly incapable and must have another person take control of their finances, and those who are clearly capable of managing their finances without assistance.  In addition, many beneficiaries’ financial difficulties may be due to their poverty more than a lack of individual capacity.  This study will explore the potential to provide more flexible financial management support to SSA beneficiaries within that grey area, incorporating approaches developed for people living in poverty.  The study will use qualitative methods to draw on the experiences and knowledge of SSA beneficiaries with psychiatric disabilities, who currently have, have had in the past, or potentially will have a representative payee.  It will use similar methods to learn from service providers who support this population with their finances.  The study will also include a review of the local financial services environment, and a literature review/online scan exploring potential models which could be employed to provide more flexible support to SSA beneficiaries.  Specific attention will be paid to the potential for innovations within the existing financial services industries, including banks, credit unions, prepaid card providers, and retailers with linked financial products.

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