Bill summaries are authored by CRS.

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Public Law (03/02/2004)

(This measure has not been amended since it was passed by the Senate on December 9, 2003. The summary of that version is repeated here, with an updated title.)

Social Security Protection Act of 2004 - Title I: Protection of Beneficiaries - Subtitle A: Representative Payees - (Sec. 101) Amends titles II (Old Age, Survivors and Disability Insurance) (OASDI), VIII (Special Benefits for Certain World War II Veterans), and XVI (Supplemental Security Income) (SSI) of the Social Security Act (SSA) to direct the Commissioner of Social Security to fully reimburse Social Security beneficiaries for any part of their title II, VIII, or XVI benefits that was misused by a representative payee that is either: (1) not an individual (that is, an organization); or (2) an individual serving 15 or more beneficiaries during any month. Defines misuse of benefits as occurring when a representative payee receives payment for the use and benefit of another person or of another qualified individual and uses any part of it other than for the use and benefit of such person or individual. Excludes reissued benefits from an individual's resources.

(Sec. 102) Requires non-governmental representative payees to certify annually that they are bonded and State-licensed.

Directs the Commissioner to: (1) provide for the periodic onsite review of certain representative payees; and (2) report to Congress on the number of cases in which a representative payee was changed and the number of times in which a misuse of funds was discovered.

(Sec. 103) Prohibits a prospective representative payee from receiving anyone's title II, VIII, or XVI benefit if the prospective representative payee: (1) has been convicted of any offense under Federal or State law resulting in imprisonment for more than one year (unless the Commissioner deems such payment would be appropriate notwithstanding such conviction); or (2) is a person fleeing prosecution, custody, or confinement for a felony. Forbids a fugitive felon from serving as a representative payee. Directs the Commissioner to assist law enforcement officials in apprehending such persons by providing them with the address, Social Security number, photograph, and other identifying information upon request.

Directs the Commissioner to evaluate and report to specified congressional committees on whether the existing procedures and reviews for the qualification and disqualification of representative payees are sufficient to guard against misuse of benefits.

(Sec. 104) Prohibits a representative payee from collecting a fee for services under titles II and XVI for any month if the Commissioner or a court of competent jurisdiction determines that the representative payee has misused any amount of a benefit for such month. Declares that any amount so collected by a representative payee shall be counted as a misused part of the benefit.

(Sec. 105) Provides that a representative payee that is not a Federal, State, or local government agency will be held liable for misuse of funds collected under titles II, VIII, and XVI, and that any misused amount recovered by the Commissioner shall be refunded to the beneficiary or the alternative representative payee.

(Sec. 106) Permits the Commissioner to require a representative payee to receive payments at the local Social Security field office if the payee has failed to furnish an annual report or a report requested by the Commissioner.

(Sec. 107) Provides certain additional funds to the Inspector General of the Social Security Administration to conduct a statistically significant survey to determine how payments made to individuals, organizations, and State or local government agencies that are representative payees for benefits paid under SSA title II or XVI are being managed and used on behalf of the beneficiaries for whom such benefits are paid.

Subtitle B: Enforcement - (Sec. 111) Provides that each misuse of benefits under titles II, VIII, and XVI by a representative payee shall be punishable by a civil penalty of up to $5,000, as well as an assessment of up to twice the value of any misused payments.

Title II: Program Protections - (Sec. 201) Amends SSA title XI to provide for the imposition of civil monetary penalties, assessments, and sanctions for the failure to come forward and notify the Social Security Administration of changed circumstances that affect eligibility or benefit amount when the person knows, or should know, that the failure to come forward is misleading.

(Sec. 202) Directs the Commissioner, until a centralized computer file recording the date of information submission is in place, to issue a receipt to the beneficiary or representative each time such individual submits documentation or reports to the Commissioner on a change in status.

(Sec. 203) Amends SSA title II to deny OASDI benefits to any individual fleeing prosecution or confinement after conviction of an act or attempted act that constitutes a felony, or, in jurisdictions that do not define crimes as felonies, is punishable by death or imprisonment for a term exceeding one year regardless of the actual sentence imposed. (Currently the Commissioner may deny fugitive felons SSI benefits.) Prohibits benefits also for those violating probation or parole under Federal or State law. Allows the Commissioner to pay such withheld OASDI benefits for good cause shown if the offense or probation or parole violation was nonviolent and not drug-related. Requires the Commissioner to do so in the event of an acquittal, dismissal of charges, vacating of an arrest warrant, or erroneous implication in connection with the criminal offense by reason of identity fraud.

Requires the Commissioner to furnish any law enforcement officer with personal information about any beneficiary, upon request, if: (1) the beneficiary is fleeing prosecution or confinement, or violating a condition of probation or parole; and (2) the location or apprehension of the beneficiary is within the officer's official duties.

(Sec. 204) Amends SSA title XI to prohibit anyone from offering for a fee information provided free of charge by the Social Security Administration unless such individual makes clear that the information is available free of charge and complies with standards prescribed by the Commissioner regarding placement, visibility, and legibility of such notice. Specifies that such restriction does not apply to offers to serve as a claimant representative or to help prepare an individual's plan for achieving self-support.

(Sec. 205) Amends SSA title II to permit the Commissioner to: (1) refuse to recognize as a representative payee, or to disqualify as a representative payee already recognized, any attorney who has been disbarred or suspended from any court or bar, or who has been disqualified from participating in or appearing before any Federal program or agency; and (2) refuse to recognize, or to disqualify, as a non-attorney representative any attorney who has been disbarred or suspended from any court or bar to which he or she was previously admitted to practice. Declares that a representative payee disqualified or suspended for collecting or receiving a fee in excess of the authorized amount: (1) shall be barred from serving again until full restitution to the claimant is made; and (2) may then be considered for reinstatement only under rules prescribed by the Commissioner.

(Sec. 206) Amends SSA title XI to establish a criminal penalty of a fine of up to $5,000 and a prison sentence of up to three years for using force or attempting to use force to obstruct or impede any Social Security Administration officer, employee, or contractor while carrying out their official activities. Makes the penalties for a mere threat of force a maximum fine of $3,000 and a prison sentence of up to one year.

(Sec. 207) Adds specified terms to the prohibition on misuse of symbols, emblems, or names in reference to Social Security and Medicare.

(Sec. 208) Amends SSA title II to provide for disqualification from payment of any disability benefit upon conviction by a Federal court that an individual has fraudulently concealed work activity during a period of trial work.

(Sec. 209) Authorizes judicial orders of restitution to: (1) individuals who suffer financial loss; or (2) the Commissioner for making a benefit payment that should not have been made. Requires deposit of funds paid to the Commissioner as restitution pursuant to a court order in the Federal Old-Age, and Survivors Insurance Trust Fund, or the Federal Disability Insurance Trust Fund, as appropriate.

Prescribes a different procedure in the case of funds paid to the Commissioner with respect to an individual suffering a financial loss because of the defendant representative payee's violation of prohibitions against making false statements or representations in any application for disability benefits or of any other applicable violations. Requires the Commissioner, in such a case, to certify for payment to the victimized individual the lesser of the amount of funds paid to the Commissioner as restitution or the individual's outstanding financial loss, minus the amount of any overpayments of benefits owed by the individual.

(Sec. 210) Amends SSA title XI to permit the Commissioner to recover overpayments paid under SSA titles II, VIII, or XVI from the benefits paid under any of these programs.

(Sec. 211) Amends SSA title II to prohibit the payment of SSA title II benefits to persons not authorized to work in the United States.

Title III: Attorney Representative Fee Payment System Improvements - (Sec. 301) Amends SSA title II to set a cap of the greater of $75 or a certain adjusted amount on the assessment owed by attorney representatives upon receiving payments for past-due OASDI benefits.

(Sec. 302) Amends SSA title XVI to provide for a temporary extension of the attorney fee payment system to SSA title XVI claims.

(Sec. 303) Directs the Commissioner to develop and carry out a nationwide demonstration project with respect to agents and other persons, other than attorneys, who represent claimants under SSA titles II and XVI before the Commissioner.

(Sec. 304) Directs the Comptroller General to evaluate and report to Congress on the appointment and payment of claimant representatives appearing before the Commissioner in connection with benefit claims under SSA titles II and XVI.

Title IV: Miscellaneous and Technical Amendments - Subtitle A: Amendments Relating to the Ticket to Work and Work Incentives Improvement Act of 1999 - (Sec. 401) Terminates on December 18, 2005, the authority for the Commissioner to initiate demonstration projects with respect to alternative methods of treating the work activity of individuals entitled to disability insurance benefits.

(Sec. 402) Amends the Ticket to Work and Work Incentives Improvement Act of 1999 to authorize the Commissioner to waive certain Ticket to Work and Self-Sufficiency Program requirements with respect to certain title II demonstration projects providing for reductions in disability benefits based on earnings.

(Sec. 403) Amends the Ticket to Work and Work Incentives Improvement Act of 1999 to revise funding of such demonstration projects.

(Sec. 404) Amends SSA title XI to extend the definition of disabled beneficiary for the Federal Work Incentives outreach program and State grants for work incentives assistance to individuals who: (1) are blind or disabled and receiving SSI payments; (2) receive a State Supplementary payment; or (3) are in an extended period of Medicare eligibility under SSA title VIII after a period of SSA title II disability has ended.

Permits services under State grants for work incentives assistance to disabled beneficiaries to include advocacy or other necessary services to maintain gainful employment in addition to those for securing or regaining such employment.

(Sec. 405) Declares that an individual work plan established under the Act shall be treated under the Internal Revenue Code as an individualized written plan for employment under a State plan for vocational rehabilitation services approved under the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. (Thus provides that employers who hire disabled workers through a referral by employment networks under the Ticket to Work program also qualify for the Work Opportunity Tax Credit.)

(Sec. 406) Directs the Comptroller General to report to Congress on the Ticket to Work and Self-Sufficiency Program that: (1) examines the annual and interim reports issued by States, the Ticket to Work and Work Incentives Advisory Panel, and the Commissioner of Social Security regarding such program; (2) assesses the effectiveness of the activities carried out under such program; and (3) recommends such legislative or administrative changes as the Comptroller General determines are appropriate to improve the effectiveness of such program.

(Sec. 407) Amends SSA title XI to reauthorize and extend through FY 2009 the work incentives outreach program and the program of State grants for work incentives assistance to disabled beneficiaries.

Subtitle B: Miscellaneous Amendments - (Sec. 411) Amends SSA title II to eliminate the obligation for the Social Security Administration to file a transcript with the court when it makes a remand decision fully favorable to a claimant.

(Sec. 412) Requires the Social Security Administration to prohibit the payment of Social Security benefits to beneficiaries who are removed from the United States, pursuant to a removal notice from the Attorney General or the Secretary of Homeland Security, for smuggling aliens.

(Sec. 413) Amends the Federal Reports Elimination and Sunset Act of 1995 to reinstate requirements for certain reports eliminated by such Act, including the annual reports of the Board of Trustees on the OASDI, Hospital Insurance, and Supplementary Medical Insurance trust funds, continuing disability reviews, and disability determinations.

(Sec. 414) Amends SSA title II to create an exception to the nine-month marriage requirement for survivor benefits under the Act to treat as an eligible widow or widower the spouse of a deceased man or woman whom the deceased spouse would have married earlier but for the fact that a prior spouse's institutionalization for mental incompetence or similar incapacity made a divorce illegal.

(Sec. 416) Extends to Kentucky and Louisana the authority to operate a divided retirement system.

(Sec. 417) Amends SSA title VII to declare that members of the Social Security Advisory Board shall be compensated at the rate of pay for level IV of the Executive Schedule.

(Sec. 418) Amends SSA title II with respect to State and local government employees covered by a public pension who subsequently elect coverage under Social Security pursuant to a voluntary agreement between the State and the Commissioner. Requires such employees to be covered by Social Security for at least the last five years of their government employment in order to be exempt from the Government pension offset requirement.

(Sec. 419) Amends SSA title XI to: (1) provide for the inclusion of noncovered employees as eligible individuals entitled to Social Security account statements; (2) require the Social Security Administration to include in the account statement to noncovered employees an explanation of the maximum potential benefit reductions that may result from the receipt of a Federal, State, or local government pension based on employment that is not subject to Social Security payroll taxes; and (3) require government employers to notify newly hired noncovered employees of the maximum effect of noncovered work on their Social Security benefits.

(Sec. 420) Directs the Secretary of the Treasury to transfer from the general funds of the Treasury to the Social Security and Medicare Hospital Insurance trust funds the remaining balance owed for deemed wage credits for persons with certain military service (eliminated by the Department of Defense and Emergency Supplemental Appropriations for Recovery from and Reponse to Terrorist Attacks on the United States, 2002).

Repeals the authority for annual appropriations and related adjustments to compensate the Social Security trust funds for such military wage credits.

(Sec. 420A) Allows re-entitlement to childhood disability benefits after the seven-year period if the beneficiary's previous entitlement had terminated because disability ceased owing to the performance of substantial gainful activity.

Subtitle C: Technical Amendments - (Sec. 421) Amends SSA title XI to make the Commissioner, instead of the Secretary of Health and Human Services, responsible for sending periodic Social Security statements to individuals.

(Sec. 422) Makes technical amendments with respect to: (1) retirement benefits of ministers; (2) domestic employment; and (3) self-employment income in a community property State; and (4) the Railroad Retirement and Survivors' Improvement Act of 2001.

Subtitle D: Amendments Related to Title XVI - (Sec. 430) Amends SSA title XVI to: (1) change the calculation of infrequent and irregular income from a monthly to a quarterly basis to allow individuals to exclude $60 per quarter of unearned income and $30 per quarter of earned income that is received irregulary and infrequently; and (2) exclude from the determination of an individual's income all interest and dividend income earned on countable resources.

(Sec. 431) Increases from six to nine months and makes uniform the time period for excluding from resources amounts attributable to payments of past-due Social Security and SSI benefits, earned income tax credit payments, and child tax credit payments.

(Sec. 432) Permits the student earned income exclusion to apply to any individual under age 22 who is a student.

(Sec. 433) Requires that, in the transition to retrospective monthly accounting during the first three months of an individual's SSI eligibility, any nonrecurring income be counted only for the first month of any eligibility period in which that the income is received, and not for any other month. Provides that payments in varying amounts from the same or similar source for the same or similar purpose shall not be considered to be nonrecurring.

(Sec. 434) Extends the current law eligibility for SSI for blind and disabled children of military personnel overseas to blind and disabled children of military personnel who were born overseas, who became blind or disabled while overseas, or who first applied for SSI benefits overseas.

(Sec. 435) Excludes: (1) from the determination of income any gift to an individual for use in paying tuition or other education-related fees; and (2) from an individual's countable resources for nine months after the month of receipt any grant, scholarship, fellowship, or gift used to pay the cost of tuition and fees at any educational institution.

(Sec. 436) Provides for the treatment of military pay as received in the month in which it was earned.