Bloomington Township offers much-needed service for residents in need of financial oversight
A representative payee program operated by the Bloomington Township Trustee’s office is filling a crucial role for residents who need help managing their money.
The relatively new program, launched in 2022 by former Trustee Kim Alexander, is currently the only one offered by a township in Monroe County. The program is expanding under current Trustee Efrat Rosser, who took office in January 2023. Efrat also serves on Heading Home’s Advisory Council.
A representative payee (RP) decides how to spend the Social Security, disability or supplemental security income (SSI) funds received by an individual who participates in the program. The goal is to help create a stable living environment in which all basic needs are met, including housing, food, utilities, and medical.
Erika Oliphant, Monroe County Prosecuting Attorney, was instrumental in helping get Bloomington Township’s program off the ground. The prosecutor’s office is an Adult Protective Services (APS) hub serving Monroe, Morgan and Owen counties. It investigates reports of “endangered” adults, including people who are incapacitated in some way, and makes referrals to medical, psychiatric, legal or social services when needed.
In 2021, the APS team identified a significant need for representative payees to help the disabled adult population who draw Social Security. They saw townships as having a role to play, noting that some other township trustee offices in Indiana had already launched successful programs. And state law enables townships to take on this role, Efrat explained.
Kay Young, who administers the RP program for Bloomington Township, noted that townships are already set up to provide emergency assistance. While that help is often a one-time quick fix, being an RP is a long-term commitment that might last a resident’s lifetime.
The township currently is an RP for six adults and one child. The program adds about 1 new client every other month.
Kay has been with Bloomington Township 10 years. “You see a lot of situations where you wish people had a better understanding of their money and how to use it,” she said, “because perhaps that would help them from ending up on the streets or from having such turmoil.”
you wish people had a better understanding of their money and how to use it, because perhaps that would help them from ending up on the streets or from having such turmoil.Kay Young, Bloomington Township RP Program Administrator
As part of this professional service that’s authorized by the Social Security Administration, the township pays the bills for each RP client, who also gets a weekly allowance to spend as they want. A portion of their income is set aside for savings, if possible. To use the Bloomington Township RP service, clients must be permanent residents of Bloomington Township when they start the program. Nonprofit agencies, including Centerstone and Indiana Legal Services, sometimes refer clients for this service, or sometimes individuals seek it out on their own.
Over time, Efrat expects the outcomes for clients will be significantly better than without this service, because of the stability it provides. And both Efrat and Kay hope that more townships and organizations take on this role. They point out that while individuals can also be RPs, an entity like the township can provide institutional stability over time.
For any entities interested in starting an RP program, Kay has this advice: “This is people work. It’s not just crunching numbers. You have to recognize that a lot of people you’ll be working with may have learning disabilities. They may not understand numbers. They may have dementia or Alzheimer’s, or have mental health issues. So they might not be quite sure what’s happening.”
Establishing trust is crucial, Kay added. Part of that involves being polite but firm, and focusing on the positive. “You’ve got to tell people no — a lot,” she said. And though she’s not a case worker, “people’s finances and lives are intertwined.”
The township is not paid for providing this service, but Efrat believes there are cost savings in the long run. These are people who will not be in crisis, she said, and who won’t need the township’s emergency assistance because the RP “is making sure the bills get paid.”
Learn more about Bloomington Township’s representative payee program here.