How Rep Payees Can Work Effectively with the Social Security Administration
For those serving as Representative Payees, interacting with the Social Security Administration (SSA) can be a big part of the job. Because it is your responsibility to disburse Social Security or Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits, you may need to communicate updates about a beneficiary, get more information about a change in an individual’s benefits status, or request guidance on how to approach a complex situation.
Navigating a system that distributes benefits to more than 70 million people can be a time-consuming and complicated process. Here are some tips on how to work effectively with the SSA.
Follow the SSA’s guidelines
While this may sound like a no-brainer, it is also true. By demonstrating your commitment to your beneficiaries and the rules and requirements of disbursing benefits, you can start your conversations and requests off on the right foot. Fortunately, the SSA offers a detailed guide for organizational rep payees that covers common topics like “Reporting Events to SSA,” or “Proper Use of Benefits,” as well as guidance for more specific situations like “Handling Large Sums of Money” and “Special Rules for Beneficiaries Living in Institutions.” If you are looking for answers to your questions, this table of contents is a good place to start.
Complete processes online when possible
Because local SSA offices have limited staff and it can be difficult to get a specialist on the phone, it’s a good idea to use the Social Security website for requests and processes that can be done online. Many organizational representative payees prefer to complete their Representative Payee Report via the SSA website instead of submitting paper statements.
Gather necessary details before you reach out
Before you pick up the phone or drop by your local Social Security office, make sure you’ve already gathered the information that specialists require to complete your request. When you contact the SSA about a specific case, you need to be prepared with the beneficiary’s name, social security number (SSN), date and place of birth, mailing address and one other unique identifier such as benefit amount, along with your organization’s name, address, and employer identification number (EIN).
Follow the best practices of your local office
Each Social Security office will adapt their way of working to meet the needs of their local communities, so it’s important to understand their preferences when it comes to working with payees. Here are few topics you’ll want to discuss with your local specialists:
- Instead of contacting the office with one-off requests, would they prefer you schedule an appointment and take care of all your business for your clients at one time?
- What types of forms would they like you to use to advise SSA of changes affecting beneficiaries? You may be able to package materials in such a way that requests and updates can be processed more quickly.
- Does their office designate a contact person for all organizational payees; is there a particular person they would like you to reach out to?
You can also ask your local specialists to suggest other payees in your area that you might connect with. Those they recommend will likely be in good standing with the SSA and able to share information about how to navigate this relationship and other best practices for being a payee.
Get some personal facetime
Many rep payees find it valuable to show up in person to their local SSA office (click here to locate yours). Having face-to-face interactions can help build rapport with individuals and develop a human connection. Personal relationships can really pay off when you’re working with the same employees across several beneficiaries. It is also easier to read body language and other cues when you’re in front of each other, which can help both parties move the conversation in a positive direction.
Document, document, document
Like with many aspects of the rep payee job, documenting your interactions with the SSA can prove useful. Consider keeping a log of your contact with the SSA – when you reached out, who you spoke to, and what you were told, including the date and time of the contact. This way you have a record of how long you’ve been pursuing specific information and/or why you took a specific action.
Be kind, but persistent
SSA specialists are juggling a lot of requests from a lot of people – many of whom may be under pressure and overworked. Working at the SSA can often be a stressful job, so those who are respectful and courteous tend to stand out. And aren’t we all more motivated to help the people who treat us well? Being kind doesn’t mean being a pushover, however; getting what you need from the SSA often requires persistence and patience. Whether that means speaking with multiple specialists to gather the correct information, finding multiple ways to ask the same question, or showing up in person to follow up on your requests, tenacity may be required to get the answers you’re looking for.
As you become more familiar with the SSA’s processes and the particular dynamics of your local office, navigating the complexities of Social Security benefits and SSI should become easier. Over time, you will learn who is the best point of contact for different topics, so you know who to go to first when these questions come up.
For more best practices on running and growing your rep payee agency, check out these recommendations.