May 21, 2014
Vol: 21 No: 21

News

Payee problems

By Aaron Burkhalter , Staff Reporter

Kent company under investigation by Social Security Administration amid complaints from low-income and disabled people

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Earlier this year, Real Change Vendor Darcie Day noticed that she hadn’t received $200 she expected as part of her Social Security Administration (SSA) benefits. Soon after, the benefits checks she received started to bounce.

CDE SSI Payee Services, a Kent-based money handler for people receiving Social Security insurance or disability benefits, was supposed to issue checks to Day, who is 48. In February, the money stopped coming entirely.

SSA shut down CDE SSI Payee Service due to “unsatisfactory performance” according to a Social Security Agency spokesperson, who would not elaborate.

“At this time, we cannot comment on the reason for CDE’s closure because SSA is conducting an ongoing review of the organization’s activities,” said Ann Mohageri, communications director of the SSA’s Seattle office.

The closure posed a particular hardship for the 610 clients CDE served. Payees provide a service for people who have either requested help with their money or people whom SSA has determined cannot handle their money because of a mental health or chemical dependency issue.

Clients of payees are especially vulnerable.

“It’s often people in the worst situations who need a representative payee,” said Maren Miller Bam, directing attorney for the Social Security Advocacy Project at the Seattle Community Law Center.

Problems with payees are widespread, according to a report from Street Roots, a street newspaper in Portland, Ore. In 2013, the Social Security Administration referred 7,600 cases of possible malfeasance by payees to the Office of the Inspector General, of which 136 have been sentenced.

“Social Security really doesn’t have any reasonable mechanism for enforcing how payees act,” Disability Rights Oregon Executive Director Bob Joondeph told Street Roots. “There is a way to remove a payee, but it’s rare; it’s cumbersome.”

CDE provided services to 610 people in the Puget Sound region, including many Real Change Vendors. Fewer than 50 still need to find a new payee service, Mohageri said.

Anyone who worked with CDE who still needs help should call Mohageri at 206.615.2666.

Representatives for CDE SSI Payee Services could not be reached for comment. According to the state Department of Licensing and the Secretary of State, the company is run by Gordon Dean Sr., Teresa Dean and Clarence Dean Jr.

Real Change called phone numbers associated with the company and sought home phone numbers of the Deans. The phone numbers either did not have voicemail or answering machines, or when they did, voicemail was full.

Day turned to CDE for help more than a decade ago because she had a drug and alcohol problem.

“I couldn’t manage my money at the time,” she said. “I wanted some help.”

For years, CDE SSI Payee Services provided that help. In exchange for a monthly $35 fee, CDE paid Day’s rent and distributed the remainder of her monthly $721 in weekly payments.

Day said she worked with a man named Carter Dean, who managed her rent and paid the rest of her Social Security benefits divided into four checks each month.

Dean helped people get shelter and hosted Thanksgiving dinners, Day said.

“He was a neat guy,” she said. “He was happy.”

Now, Day estimates that the company owes her $6,000 in lost Social Security benefits.

Real Change Vendor John Patrick Zastrow turned to CDE SSI Payee Services in 2013 when he qualified for Social Security disability. Zastrow suffers from anxiety and post traumatic stress disorder from when he was homeless.

CDE covered his rent at the beginning of the month and gave him four $95 checks each month, Zastrow said. He started receiving $72 checks, even though the amount he received from Social Security hadn’t changed.

When CDE shut down, many people turned to Compass Housing Alliance for help.

“We saw a lot of folks who were mismanaged by CDE,” said Teresa Dillard, program manager of Compass’ banking services, which includes payee services for 165 people.

More than 4,000 people use

Compass’ mail services on Alaskan Way in Pioneer Square. In February, many of CDE’s clients received letters there notifying them that they needed to find a new payee service.

This is not the first time people have complained about not getting their benefits from payees.

In 2011, the U.S. District Court prosecuted the business manager of the nonprofit People Helping People, which handled Social Security payments for more than 500 people. The business manager had stolen $625,000 from hundreds of disabled clients, according to the Department of Justice.

Bam said problems with payees can snowball. Social Security had already determined that benefits recipients can’t manage their own money. Now they have to switch to a new payee service and wait for their lost payments.

“It’s an intense process, and it’s a difficult process,” Bam said.

Day decided that she was done with payee services. She asked Social Security if she could manage her own money, and has been doing so since CDE closed.

“I’m doing pretty good right now,” she said. “I have to have faith and trust in myself.”

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