U.S. Judge Marco Hernandez ruled on March 26 that the Social
Security Administration (SSA) improperly handled the clients of a nonprofit
organization that is shutting down amidst a federal investigation.
Earlier this month, Safety Net of Oregon was served with a
federal search warrant on allegations that it was mismanaging clients’ funds.
Safety Net serves as the representative payee, which is an organization or
individual that manages the disability benefits of individuals unable to handle
their own money. The nonprofit, which was payee to about 1,000 people, is
slated to shut it doors April 1, prompting concerns that its clients wouldn't
have access to their money and would be unable to pay rent, utilities, medical
bills and other expenses.
The ruling by Hernandez is in response to a lawsuit filed by
Disability Rights Oregon and the Oregon Law Center against the SSA. The suit
alleged that the SSA was required by law to assign the former clients of Safety
Net to another payee service.
“These people are poor, homeless or precariously housed, and
among the most vulnerable citizens in our community,” said Kathy Wilde, an
attorney with Disability Rights Oregon, telling the judge that SSA had an
“unambiguous statutory mandate” to assign Safety Net's clients to a new payee.
She said that many of Safety Net's clients are difficult to
reach. Many, she said, were unaware that they needed a new payee and would have
a rude awakening on April 1 when they were unable to access their money. She
said that it would be “chaos” at Safety Net's office on April 1 when people
showed up to access their money.
Janice Herbert, assistant U.S. attorney representing, told
the judge that SSA had been proactive in attempting to find new payees for
former Safety Net clients. She said that Share and Care House, a
Washington-based nonprofit, has had a steady presence at SSA's Portland offices
to sign up Safety Net clients.
She said that it's simply not feasible to transfer over the
426 former clients who haven't found a payee to a new payee because Safety
Net's records are a mess. She also said that if a beneficiary is assigned to a
new payee, then the law requires there to be a 15-day delay period to allow the
beneficiary to object.
“It's simply not good enough to transfer over to another
organization,” she said. “That's the problem.”
Herbert also said that SSA has been doing outreach with
local social service organizations and the county to alert former clients of
their situation. She also said that she expected there to be a wave of people
at the SSA offices after the first of April. At this point, she said SSA would
be able to issue an emergency check and get each individual signed up with a
Hernandez disagreed with this approach and ruled in favor of
the plaintiffs. SSA must now begin assigning new payees to former Safety Net
On March 14, Street Roots reported the following investigation on why
carries a backlog of Social Security Disability cases nearly twice as high as
the national average.
On March 24, Street Roots reported that the
Oregon Law Center and Disability Rights Oregon filed a lawsuit against the
Social Security Administration.