PORTLAND -- On Monday, Disability Rights Oregon filed a lawsuit against Social Security, trying to protect nearly 1,000 Portlanders who are in danger of losing their social security benefits.
The reason so many metro area residents could lose their benefits is due to the federal investigation into Safety Net, a nonprofit group that’s supposed to help the disabled.
Many of the people that use Safety Net are mentally disabled, homeless or facing severe challenges. Their disability benefits are sent directly to Safety Net, on Morrison Street in Southeast Portland.
Safety Net then helps them manage their bills and gives them their disability checks. Many are low income and some of Portland’s most vulnerable citizens.
“They have difficulty managing their social security benefits, and they need help with it,” said Lee Girard, with Multnomah County’s Human Services. And that help comes from Safety Net, known as the “payee.”
But now Safety Net is under a federal investigation. Sources tell KGW the federal investigators are looking into mismanaged money.
Unit 8 tried to talk to the people at Safety Net, but as soon as reporters entered the building, they were told to leave.
Safety Net had posted a flier on the window of their office, stating the non-profit will close its doors for good on April 1.
“I lost a bunch of money a few years ago, and they say they sent it somewhere and it never received there,” said Frank Howard, a Safety Net client.
He’s not alone. For the nearly 1,000 people who use Safety Net, the closure will put their benefits at risk.
Many have come to the location for years to get their bills paid and collect their checks. Now, they will have to turn to someone else, and fast.
“I have empathy for them, you know I don't know what the hell they'll do,” said Howard.
“If they don’t have anyone to help them with that, then there will be a lapse in their benefits” said Girard.
As a Community Services Manager for Multnomah County’s Human Services Department, Girard said a deadline has been set for next Friday for all the people to sign up for a new payee service. If they don’t sign up their benefits are immediately in jeopardy.
The problem is that many of the affected people are homeless, don’t have addresses or phones, and getting the word out about the change and the deadline is challenging.
“There are some people that are homeless, they may be staying in a shelter, they may be staying with friends, a lot of people do have apartments, some people move, some of them are going to be homebound,” said Girard.
She fears that, come the first of the month, hundreds of people who were not notified about the investigation, or the closure of Safety Net, will not be able to get their disability benefits.
Unit 8 was told that Governor Kitzhaber’s office is monitoring the situation to see if the transition is smooth.