Casey pushes Social Security reforms to prevent another Tacony dungeon case

To avoid another tragedy like last fall’s Tacony dungeon case, in which four mentally disabled people were discovered locked in a basement, the Social Security Administration is changing how it selects and monitors people who receive benefits on behalf of disabled individuals.

Prodded by U.S. Sen. Bob Casey (D., Pa.), the administration will launch a pilot project Monday in Philadelphia that changes how it screens people applying to be "representative payees" for those with disabilities.

"This new effort from the Social Security Administration," Casey said in a statement, "is the first step towards ensuring what happened in Tacony never happens again."

Casey is to announce the changes at a 3 p.m. news conference Monday at 30th Street Station.

In the Tacony case, Linda Weston and two others were charged with imprisoning intellectually challenged adults in a cellar and stealing their federal benefits. Weston, who had served time for starving a man to death, was designated a payee for 10 men and women from 1995 to 2001.

During the pilot program, set to run for three to six months, the administration will test the effectiveness of employees to screen for offenders in one of 12 categories, including human trafficking, sex offenses, fraud, theft, abuse, forgery, and homicide.

"This pilot program," Casey said, "will make drastic reforms to the representative payee system so another Linda Weston cannot prey on innocent children in the future."

Casey said he would monitor the progress of the program and push a bill he introduced to give Social Security employees access to the FBI’s criminal database.