Social Worker Stories: A Day in the Life of a Rep Payee
Those who ask us to explain our job as Representative Payee Program Coordinators are often left more confused than before. We struggle to explain the many hats that we put on and take off, all of which are a part of what we do on a day to day basis. As RPP Coordinators, we work with clients who are living with severe chronic mental illnesses. We work with their mental health treatment teams to support clients in budgeting their disability benefits in ways in which make it possible to sustain themselves throughout the month. This is more difficult than it may sound given that many of our clients receive only $771 in income per month (if they receive SSI only). But our job goes beyond just budgets! Here is a glimpse of the life of an RPP Coordinator at Bread for the City:
Bread for the City’s Northwest center opens promptly at 8:30 a.m., which means you have your computer up and running, your meeting room setup, and coffee in hand by 8:30 a.m. as well. You know not to walk out to the lobby between 8:30 a.m. and 8:45 a.m. because that disrupts the front desk’s triage process, not to mention it frequently results in clients calling you in four different directions before you even get a chance to take your first sip of coffee!
One of your 260 clients is on walk-ins. Clients drop by without an appointment for a myriad of reasons, from needing to activate a PNC card, to wanting a change in budget or additional money. Most of the time you do not know what the issue or solution is going to be until you are in there working through it with them one step at a time. Today you have a client who wants to talk about getting a new couch. However, you quickly find out she has not been in contact with her treatment team in months, the property management company in charge of her apartment has changed and she has no idea who the new management company is, and she is in danger of having her Social Security Income cut off because she is over resources (she has over $2000 in her account, the limit Social Security allows people to save while still receiving benefits). Not only does this client have all of these issues on her plate, she is also an elderly woman who suffers with anxiety and paranoid schizophrenia. This situation is unfair and traumatizing but is it not uncommon. It is a good day when after several weeks of emails and phone calls you finally get a number for the new management company that works.
You have a chance to sit down and get through emails and voice messages. You receive emails about cable issues, hospitalizations, incarcerations and the occasional email from a client wondering if their check is ready for pick up. However, before you can get through too many, you are called back out to the lobby to assist one of your clients who informs you that they’ve been discharged from their mental health agency. This is especially problematic because being enrolled at a D.C. mental health agency is a requirement of receiving payee services, and this client has yet to develop a rapport with any of their treatment teams despite being in the program for years. You bring them into the intake room but before you can even start working together, a g-chat from the front desk pops on your computer screen stating that another client needs to be seen. You kindly tell this client that you cannot help them with their apartment issues until they are enrolled at a mental health agency. The client asks you to walk them to their mental health agency as you did the last time but you inform them that unfortunately, you have another client to see and cannot do that again. It is difficult to manage your empathy for a client with the need to do your job, which is why boundaries are a necessary aspect of self care in social work.
By noon you have listened to clients talk about their awful housing situation or lack thereof, you have called caseworkers to see if they can send in requests for a client to be able to get a birthday gift for a loved one, you have attempted to track down missing budgets from treatment teams, and giggled with clients when they tell you they are going to sing at your wedding! Lunch hour is necessary. It is necessary for you to breathe deeply, to sweat off the small stuff, and to take a walk around the block because at 1pm you are back on.
Bread for the City’s Representative Payee Program is supported through a contract with the DC Department of Behavioral Health.