This department is
Generously Adopted By
Article from South Texas Catholic, April 2017
Joe is unemployed, but his wife and children receive Supplemental Security Income, a Federal income supplement program designed to help people who have little or no income meet basic needs, such as, food, clothing and shelter. Joe does not contribute any money to the family unit, but instead he takes his wife and kids’ weekly SSI allowances.
Alfonso was recently living at Good Samaritan Mission. He cashed his weekly check and went to the Mother Teresa Shelter where—almost immediately—the homeless there knew he had money and “asked to borrow” some. His money was quickly gone.
The names in these situations are fictitious but the situations described are very real. They are the types of circumstances that the staff with the Representative Payee Program of Catholic Charities encounters often.
The program was established in 1971 to provide assistance to the most vulnerable members of the community; the young, the elderly and the disabled who are unable to manage their SSA, SSI or VA benefits, in most cases due to exploitation as described above.
The Representative Payee Program operates within Social Security Administration guidelines and is funded by the clients themselves; they are usually required by Social Security to enroll in the program. By becoming the “representative payee”, Catholic Charities assumes their financial management responsibilities.
But what does this really mean?
It means that Catholic Charities sets up a monthly budget based on the client’s income and bills to help ensure the client has shelter, clothing and the essentials. Once the budget is established, based on the client’s income and expenses, then the Representative Payee Program staff pays their rent, phone, utilities, insurance, medication, etc. Whatever monies are left over is divided into weekly checks that are sent to the clients for their “pocket money”.
But there really is more to it than just paying bills. There is also the human side.
Most clients in the program are referred by agencies, such as Social Security Administration, Adult Protective Services, Child Protective Services, Mother Teresa Shelter, Good Samaritan and Behavior Health Center of Nueces County as well as by other Catholic Charities departments. Many clients do not have anyone to help them, sometimes they just need someone to listen, said Elsa Ortiz, Payee Program Director. “Giving our clients peace of mind, making them worry-free about paying their bills is our job,” Ortiz said. “The program lends itself to a positive outcome, if clients give it a chance, it keeps them from becoming homeless.”
Most of the program’s clients are from 30–65-years-of-age. However, some clients are families with children under 18, and some are senior citizens in debt, homeless or just in need of assistance in managing their benefits. In a typical month, the Payee Program has 120 clients and processes some 2,000 checks, both in client income and in payments made on the clients’ behalf.
Most clients referred to the program live in Nueces County, but the program also serves clients within the 12-county area within the Diocese of Corpus Christi.
Ortiz and Johanna Swetish staff the Payee Program and a volunteer accountant helps with bank statements. Ortiz and Swetish have been with the program at Catholic Charities for almost seven years.
“It is a great, great program. We help people. That’s what keeps us going,” Swetish said.
“We take pride in what we do,” Ortiz said. “We are preventing approximately 125 people a month from being homeless, having their power or utilities disconnected or being exploited. Through the Payee Program, we know they are being taken care of and that their monthly benefit check is being used properly and will last them throughout the month.”
Currently the program is accepting elderly clients on Social Security or with Veteran’s benefits. It is open to accepting clients of all ages. Client consultations are by appointment, Monday-Thursday, from 8 a.m. - 4 p.m. To setup an appointment, call (361) 336-1023.