EFFECTIVE/PUBLICATION DATE: 12/13/93
SSR 93-3: SECTIONS 202(d) AND 205(i) AND (j) OF THE SOCIAL SECURITY ACT (42 U.S.C. 402(d) AND 405(i) AND (j)) DISAPPEARANCE OF A CHILD BENEFICIARY -- RESTRICTION AGAINST PAYMENT TO A MISSING BENEFICIARY
20 CFR 404.352(b), 404.705 and 404.2001
- After a child beneficiary disappeared mysteriously, the Social Security Administration (SSA) suspended her benefits. The beneficiary's mother, also the representative payee for the child, protested on the basis that she needed the funds to help finance the search for her daughter and requested that benefits be reinstated. SSA reinstated the benefits pending further review.
- Five years have now elapsed since the beneficiary disappeared. The question here is whether SSA should continue benefit payments for the missing beneficiary when it is not known whether she is still alive and entitled to the benefits.
- Held, based on the circumstances in this case, further payment of benefits should be suspended until the beneficiary's whereabouts and continuing eligibility for benefits have been determined.
On June 3, 1988, the child beneficiary disappeared. At that time she was 7 years old. Her mother believes that she may have been abducted by an unknown person(s). Since that date there have been no reported sightings of her, she has not been in contact with any relatives, and it is not known whether she is still alive. No determination has been made by any Federal or State agency about the reason for her disappearance or whether she may be still alive.
SSA initially suspended benefits in 1988. SSA reinstated the benefits when the child's mother maintained that the benefits were being used on behalf of the beneficiary, that is, to search for her with the intent of restoring her to her family environment. However, despite the passage of a lengthy period of time, there is no information available as to whether the child remains alive and entitled to benefits.
Under the provisions of the Social Security Act (the Act) (section 202(d)), and its implementing regulation (20 CFR 404.352(b)), a minor child who is entitled to benefits is eligible to receive such benefits until the child marries, attains age 18 (unless a full-time student or disabled), or dies (whichever occurs first). Such payments are usually certified to a representative payee to be used for the child's interests.
The Act does not provide SSA with authority to expend Trust Funds in the form of benefit payments to individuals who are not entitled to those payments. Since the beneficiary who is missing may not continue to be eligible for benefits, SSA will suspend benefits until the beneficiary's eligibility can be determined. Social Security Ruling 90-6 (C.E 1990-1991, p. 39) explains:
- "There is no authority for making representative payment if the beneficiary has disappeared or is believed to be deceased.
- "... the Secretary was justified in suspending the beneficiary's benefits until such time as her status or whereabouts have been determined."
Furthermore, according to section 205(i) of the Act, SSA must certify to the Secretary of the Treasury the address of a person entitled to receive payments and the time when the payments shall be made. It is appropriate to suspend or terminate payment of benefits when SSA does not know the address of the beneficiary or whether payments should be made at a particular time due to uncertainty about eligibility.
In this case, the passage of time and lack of any contact with the missing child since 1988 create substantial doubt about her continuing eligibility for benefits. According to information from the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the longer the duration of an unresolved child abduction, the less likelihood there is that the child will be returned. Therefore, under the circumstances in this case, there is sufficient uncertainty about the child's continuing eligibility for benefits to justify the suspension of benefits until her status can be determined.
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