< Back to Search

LIHEAP IM 2010-6 States are Encouraged to Require Social Security Numbers in Determining Eligibility

Published: May 5, 2010
Audience:
Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP)
Category:
Guidance, Policies, Procedures, Information Memorandums (IM)
Transmittal No.  LIHEAP-IM-2010-6
Date:  May 5, 2010
TO:

Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) Grantees and Other Interested Parties

SUBJECT:

States are Strongly Encouraged to Exercise their Discretion to Require Social Security Numbers in Determining Eligibility for LIHEAP

RELATED REFERENCES:

Executive Order 13520, Reducing Improper Payments, issued November 20, 2009; The Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act of 1981 (Public Law (P.L.) 97-35), as amended; U.S. Code Title 42 (“The Public Health and Welfare”), Section 405 (42 USC 405)(c)(2)(C)(i); Section 7 of the Privacy Act of 1974 (The Privacy Act) (5 USC 552a note).

PURPOSE:

To inform LIHEAP grantees about Social Security Act provisions that allow States to require Social Security Numbers (SSNs) from applicant households as a condition of LIHEAP eligibility. HHS strongly recommends  that States implement and strengthen requirements for SSNs of LIHEAP applicants and household members to deter fraud and prevent payments to ineligible individuals.

BACKGROUND:

HHS has conducted an analysis of the policies that apply to the LIHEAP program in response to Executive Order 13520 issued in November 2009 titled, Reducing Improper Payments.  This executive order encourages Federal agencies to take steps to reduce improper payments by intensifying efforts to reduce payment error and ensure strong program integrity in the major programs administered by the Federal Government. 

The Privacy Act, as previously applied to the LIHEAP program, had been interpreted to prohibit denial of a LIHEAP benefit because of an individual's refusal to disclose his or her SSN, since disclosure is not required by Federal statute.  See 5 U.S.C. § 552a note.

After a review of statutory changes made subsequent to the enactment of the Privacy Act, as well as the accompanying legislative history, HHS has determined that Section 205(c)(2)(C)(i) of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. § 405(c)(2)(C)(i), grants States the discretion to require that individuals disclose their SSNs for “the administration of any law, general public assistance, driver’s license, or motor vehicle registration law within its jurisdiction.”  HHS has further concluded that LIHEAP is a “general public assistance” program administered by States, and as such, Section 205(c)(2)(C)(i) of the Social Security Act authorizes States to require SSNs as a condition of eligibility for use in verifying the identity of individual applicants and their household members. The Social Security Act at Section 205(c)(2)(C)(i) provides:

It is the policy of the United States that any State (or political subdivision thereof) may, in the administration of any tax, general public assistance, driver’s license, or motor vehicle registration law within its jurisdiction, utilize the social security account numbers issued by the Commissioner of Social Security for the purpose of establishing the identification of individuals affected by such law, and may require any individual who is or appears to be so affected to furnish to such State (or political subdivision thereof) or any agency thereof having administrative responsibility for the law involved, the social security account number (or numbers, if he has more than one such number) issued to him by the Commissioner of Social Security.

While HHS remains bound by the Privacy Act provisions and cannot compel States to require SSNs as a condition of eligibility for LIHEAP, we have concluded that States have discretionary authority to require SSNs in the administration of their State LIHEAP programs. 

As such, HHS is issuing revised guidance on this issue to inform States of their authority to require SSNs from LIHEAP applicants and recipients and to encourage States to require SSNs in their State LIHEAP programs as a means of ensuring individual and household eligibility. 

Content:

 

Specific Guidance to States
The Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program provides assistance to some 8.2 million low-income households in meeting their home heating and cooling needs.  States may provide benefits to households with incomes that do not exceed 150 percent of the Federal poverty level or 60 percent (75 percent in fiscal years 2009 and 2010) of the State median income.  States are encouraged to target benefits to particularly vulnerable households, including those with young children, elderly members, and individuals with disabilities.  States may also give priority to households with high home energy costs, or need, in relation to income.

To ensure that program resources are effectively reaching the targeted low-income households, including vulnerable applicants with young children, the elderly, and individuals with disabilities, it is important that States establish effective preventive controls, detection and monitoring designed to deter and detect payments to ineligible households. 

Social Security Numbers for Applicants and Household Members
To enhance program integrity in LIHEAP, HHS strongly encourages States to require that LIHEAP applicants provide SSNs in order to receive a LIHEAP benefit.  This means that:

  • States may require that any individual applying for LIHEAP disclose his/her SSN, as part of the application, to validate identity and as a condition for the receipt of benefits;
  • States may require the SSNs of all household members reported in the LIHEAP application in order to qualify the household for any LIHEAP benefit; and
  • States may deny assistance to individuals and households upon a refusal to provide SSNs.

HHS also strongly encourages States to establish and implement policies and procedures governing individual program application requirements to be used in requiring Social Security Numbers for recipients in LIHEAP, including the utility of information by local administering agencies that administer LIHEAP benefits.  States are to ensure that adequate procedures are in place for the safeguarding of such information in the administration of the program. 

Access to Systems to Verify Applicant Information
HHS encourages States to exercise diligence when qualifying LIHEAP applicants by accessing or establishing governmental and other benefits systems that may be used to ensure that payments are made on behalf of eligible households, including programs that are administered by State or local government agencies, and non-profit organizations operating on behalf of the State program.

States should explore using SSNs to access the following:

  • The Social Security Administration’s Enumeration Verification System to confirm identity of applicants and household members;
  • State directories of new hires or similar systems to confirm income eligibility;
  • Prisoner databases to ensure that applicants and individuals listed as household members are eligible recipients; and
  • Other databases that may be used to confirm applicant and household eligibility, such as State vital records registries. 

Under LIHEAP provisions, States have the flexibility to serve households that have at least one member who receives assistance under the Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) program, the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP), Supplemental Security Income (SSI), and certain needs-tested Veteran’s benefits. For households where LIHEAP eligibility is contingent upon this “categorical eligibility,” States should establish procedures to ensure that such eligibility provides sufficient verification of an applicant’s or household member’s identity, income status, and other eligibility criteria that may be established by the State.

The ability of each State’s LIHEAP program to access government and other benefits systems will be governed by Federal authority or laws of each State, and HHS encourages States to take advantage of their available authorities and resources to use SSNs as a means of accessing or establishing systems in the provision of funds to eligible households.  HHS notes that States may use up to 10 percent of their LIHEAP block grant funds for administrative costs, and encourages the utilization of these administrative resources to support this critical program integrity effort to deter errors or receipt of LIHEAP benefits by ineligible households. 

Program Integrity Measures
Beginning with States’ FY 2011 application for LIHEAP funding, States are requested to submit, as a supplement to their State Plans, information that details their program integrity measures, including details regarding applicant and household verification for LIHEAP applicants, income verification, and other procedures that the State implements on program accountability.  Additional information regarding the supplement will be issued separately. 

Conclusion
HHS is committed to working with the States in our shared accountability in administering the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program to ensure that these critical resources are provided appropriately to the households that most need them.  We look forward to working with you in partnership as we implement improved policies designed to identify and mitigate risks of erroneous benefits. 

Please take special note that we plan to release an Action Transmittal providing additional detail on State Plan requirements (LIHEAP-AT-2010-6), which will help us assess current measures and prescribe improvements for your State’s fraud prevention systems.  We look forward to working in collaboration to strengthen the LIHEAP program across the board.

 

                                                            __/s/________________
                                                            Yolanda J. Butler, Ph.D.
                                                            Acting Director
                                                            Office of Community Services