CRIST CHAMPIONS SENIORS, INTRODUCES BILL PREVENTING FRAUDSTER GUARDIANS FROM STEALING SOCIAL SECURITY BENEFITS

Washington, DC - U.S. Representatives Charlie Crist (D-St. Petersburg), Gus Bilirakis (R-FL), and Darren Soto (D-FL) introduced the “Senior Guardianship Social Security Protection Act” (H.R. 5380). The bill would direct state courts to notify the Social Security Administration (SSA) when a court-appointed guardian is removed for cause, so they can be blocked from collecting Social Security benefits on behalf of the seniors under their care.

The legislation comes on the heels of reports revealing unscrupulous guardians who drained the assets of seniors in their care. In Pinellas County, a leader in the guardian community is facing criminal charges for stealing more than $500,000 from one of the 31 seniors under her care. Along with Reps. Soto and Bilirakis, H.R. 5380 is the second piece of legislation Rep. Crist has led aimed at tackling guardianship abuse.

“Abuses within the professional guardianship system are finally coming to light, and it’s abundantly clear that the system, and oversight of it, is broken,” said Rep. Crist. “This legislation is another way we can help crack down on abusive practices and better protect our seniors from bad actors in the guardianship system.”

“This important bill provides one more layer of protection to ensure our most vulnerable citizens do not become victims of exploitation,” said Rep. Bilirakis

“I am proud to co-lead the Senior Guardianship Social Security Protection Act. This is the first step in ensuring the reduction of the increasing cases against those elderly and vulnerable from abuse and fraud,” said Rep. Soto. “It is imperative that there is open communication between Social Security Administration and state government in order disable those with negative intentions. There must be accountability for guardians deemed unfit but continue to abuse the system because of the lack of communication between SSA and state governments.”

Background on “Senior Guardianship Social Security Protection Act”:
As a general practice, state courts appoint a guardian for individuals when a judge or other court official have determined that an individual lacks the capacity to make important decisions regarding their life and property. When state courts appoint guardians, older adults often forfeit some or all of their decision-making powers including the right to sign contracts, vote, marry or divorce, buy or sell real estate, decide where to live, or make decisions about their healthcare. As part of this arrangement, guardians are often given control of the ward's assets including bank accounts, property, and pensions.

Separately, the Social Security Administration can appoint representative payees to manage federal benefits received by individuals who are unable to do so for themselves. SSA is responsible for oversight of the representative payees, while state and local courts are responsible for oversight of the guardians. There are instances, however, when a state has deemed a guardian unfit and removed the ward from the guardian’s care “with cause” but said guardian still remains on as the ward’s SSA representative payee. In these cases, SSA is often unaware that the state found the guardian unfit.

The Senior Guardianship Social Security Protection Act would increase communication between state courts who appoint/remove guardians and SSA's representative payee program. The bill would direct state courts to notify SSA upon removal of a ward from a guardian so that SSA might reassess the appropriateness of the former guardian remaining on as that ward's Social Security representative payee.

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