The Social Security Administration will now do background checks on everyone who collects Social Security benefits on behalf of someone who is unable to manage his or her own finances.
The background check program was previously experimental and relatively new. It was launched in five states and the District of Columbia in June 2012 in the wake of an incident in Philadelphia where a woman was arrested for holding mentally disabled people captive in order to steal their Social Security disability and retirement benefits.
Under the expanded program, anyone who has committed one of about a dozen crimes can no longer control benefits on behalf of someone else. The crimes include human trafficking, abuse or neglect, false imprisonment, kidnapping, rape or sexual assault, first-degree homicide, robbery, fraud by scheme, forgery, identity theft and theft of government assistance, funds or property.
Critics of Social Security's efforts say it doesn't go far enough because Social Security doesn't have access to the FBI's criminal database, so the administration must rely on public records or third-party private databases to do the background checks.
U.S. Sen. Bob Casey, D-Pa., who pushed for the expansion of this program, told the Philadelphia Daily News, "While this expansion is a good step, it's not the end of our efforts. We've got to monitor this program closely to make sure it works and that every person who applies to be a representative payee goes through a criminal background check."
This may sound like a small retirement planning problem, but according to The Associated Press, 5.6 million people receive benefits on behalf of 7.6 million beneficiaries. That's a total of $61 billion annually in Social Security benefits.