How to Tackle the Common Challenges of Being a Rep Payee
Many of the Rep Payees we work with were led to this career path because of a desire to help. In fact, we’ve heard several stories of people who became a professional payee after fulfilling these duties for a loved one and wanting to use their knowledge to benefit others. They tell us that “I’m sometimes the only person a client has” and how this keeps them committed to their work.
We also hear about the challenges Rep Payees face on the job — the struggles to manage dozens, if not hundreds, of clients and navigate government systems and bureaucracy. But if you’re like many of our payee customers, you are dedicated to continuing this work, and we want it to be just a little bit easier for you. Here are some of the common challenges we’ve heard from our customers along with some strategies for how to address them.
Challenge: Overwhelmed by Requests for Money
Organizational payees often report high call volumes from clients asking where their money is, when it’s coming, or why they ran out of it. But disbursing funds isn’t your only responsibility and fielding these calls can interfere with your other work — interrupting you mid-task or not leaving time for you to get everything done.
Strategies that can help:
- A clearly communicated cadence - Establish a regular schedule of delivering payments to your clients and communicate with them often about this timing. One payee told us that “my clients know that Tuesday is payday,” so it won’t help to call on other days of the week.
- Use voicemails and texts - Set up a phone number that goes straight to voicemail and give this to your clients. In the outgoing recording, you can provide additional instructions such as “calling repeatedly will not yield a different result,” to help limit multiple messages for the same request. Schedule time to review their messages in batches and return their calls, so you can avoid constant interruptions while focused on other tasks. Some offices will use the outgoing recording to share this schedule, including a message such as “We do not take calls on Wednesdays from 8am until Noon to allow us to issue checks and handle funding requests; if you need to speak with us, please call back after 12pm.” You can also use a service like Google Voice which will transcribe voicemails for easy review and also allow you to accept/send text messages which may be quicker to read and respond to.
- Outsource some requests - If you are already a True Link customer, your clients with a True Link Visa® Prepaid Card can contact our Customer Service team via phone or text message with questions about their account, current balance, and funding updates.
Challenge: Managing Multiple processes across Several Clients
While your primary responsibility as a payee is to disburse Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits or other government funds, that is far from the only item on your to-do list. In any one day, you (and your team, if you have one) may be providing information to the Social Security Administration (SSA) to update benefits status, helping beneficiaries secure affordable housing, trying to locate someone you haven’t heard from in a couple of weeks, paying bills, and connecting a beneficiary to community resources.
Strategies that can help:
- Focus team member workloads - If you have a staff, you can experiment with breaking down your workload in different ways. Some agencies find it helpful to assign clients to a primary point of contact for all their needs, while others will have one person handle a specific task for all clients. We spoke with one Rep Payee who has a person assigned to handle all billpay for their agency — though we recommend cross-training someone on these processes so you have redundancy for vacations, sick leave, or turnover.
- Use tools to automate and stay on track - There are lots of tools out there that can help you across all aspects of running your agency. We hear from our customers that using a case management software tool designed specifically for Rep Payees can help you automate recurring processes, share work across team members, and keep your client’s data in one, secure place. If you would like a few suggestions, please feel free to reach out to Tom Zammar (firstname.lastname@example.org), our Rep Payee specialist. You can also use the True Link Platform to automate funding processes, track expenditures, and download reports for audits.
Challenge: Helping Clients Make Funds Last
Many of the Rep Payees we work with are driven to help their clients make the most of their funds. This can be a difficult task because SSI payments can run out quickly and beneficiaries may not have been taught money management basics.
Strategies that can help:
- Spread out funds over time - Many Rep Payees find it helpful to send frequent payments of smaller amounts to help their clients budget and manage their funds. True Link’s customers often choose to disburse funds to their clients multiple times each week. Because this can be automated through the True Link platform, scheduling payments as frequently as 5 days a week can be as simple as scheduling weekly disbursements. Spreading out funds in this way can also reduce the number of requests for additional funds, as your client may not run out so quickly.
- Take advantage of discounts - Another way to help your clients save money is to get them better deals on what’s already being purchased. First, look at the expenses you’re paying for directly: housing, utilities, medical care, and explore whether you can find these at lower costs. This could include federal housing subsidies, discounted utility rates, community health clinic visits, and more; you’ll likely want to work with a client’s social worker to uncover these opportunities and help you and the client take advantage of them. For personal and incidental (P&I) expenses that clients purchase directly, consider making a list of local resources they can take advantage of such as thrift stores, free laundry days at local laundromats, and other discounts offered by churches and social service organizations.
- Avoid cash when possible - There are a few reasons you might want to avoid giving your clients their personal allowance in cash. Ones we hear a lot from Rep Payees are: 1. There’s a low barrier to using cash for illicit purchases and 2. If lost or stolen, cash can’t be replaced. This is another situation where True Link can be helpful. If a True Link Visa card is lost or stolen, you can immediately disable it to prevent additional transactions and order a replacement. Once the new Visa card arrives and is activated, any funds remaining on the lost Visa card will be automatically transferred to the new one.
- Talk it out - Good budgeting often requires good communication, which can be easier said than done depending on your relationship with a client. But it’s still important to convey what you’re doing with their money, why you’re doing it, and what your role is as their rep payee. You might also find it helpful to ask clients about their goals and discuss how savings can be used to work towards them. This grounds the budgeting conversations in their own interests instead of about what they can or cannot do. Some payees will also use a budget worksheet in these conversations to show the breakdown of the client's expenses and what is left after these bills are paid for personal spending.
Challenge: Keeping Track of Purchases and Receipts
As a Rep Payee, working with the SSA and reporting how SSI benefits are used is a requirement of the job. Keeping accurate records is particularly important if the SSA conducts an audit of how resources are being spent. But, it can be hard to get clients to keep and share receipts so you can keep track of their purchases.
Strategies that can help:
- Try a new system for collecting receipts - Asking for receipts at the end of the month is unlikely to get you copies of everything you need. For clients with camera phones, ask them to take a photo of the receipt as soon as they make a purchase and text or email it to you. You could also make one day of the week “Receipt Day” (ideally the day before payday) and schedule an auto-text or email message reminder to go out to all clients. Like with budgeting, communication is key
- Track spending automatically - For clients who are using a True Link Visa Card, you can view all of their transactions from the True Link platform, so if they don’t proactively send you a receipt, you can ask for one. And when you do have receipts, you can attach them to an individual’s account. We also hear from Rep Payees that being able to access each of their clients' transaction histories makes the audit process a little bit easier.
We know being a Rep Payee isn’t an easy job — you have a tremendous amount of responsibility and limited resources to accomplish it all, not to mention the stress and emotional toll this work often brings with it. If you’re looking to connect with other payees navigating these challenges, we encourage you to attend our next Rep Payee networking event where 50+ rep payees gather quarterly to ask questions and share advice. You can submit your information here to receive notifications on upcoming networking events.