State Letter #00-23
States cannot require that applicants for Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) -funded assistance and services provide social security numbers
TO: STATE REFUGEE COORDINATORS
NATIONAL VOLUNTARY AGENCIES
OTHER INTERESTED PARTIES
FROM: Lavinia Limón, Director
Office of Refugee Resettlement
SUBJECT: States cannot require that applicants for Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) -funded assistance and services provide social security numbers
Social Security Number Inquiries
States cannot require that applicants for ORR-funded assistance and services provide social security numbers. Under the Privacy Act of 1974, States are prohibited from denying an individual any right, benefit, or privilege provided by law because of the individual's refusal to disclose his or her social security number unless disclosure is required by federal statute. For ORR-funded assistance and services, including employment services, disclosure of a social security number is not required by federal statute.
States may request that an applicant voluntarily provide his or her social security number. However, if a State makes this request, under the Privacy Act, it must inform the applicant that disclosure is voluntary. It also must tell the applicant how the State will use the number.
ORR is issuing this State Letter to ensure that eligible populations are not denied ORR-funded assistance and services because they have not yet received social security numbers. Internal Social Security Administration (SSA) procedures for asylees and Cuban and Haitian entrants, which differ from those for refugees, often prohibit asylees and Cuban and Haitian entrants from applying and receiving social security numbers for several months after they receive their status. States cannot deny ORR-funded assistance and services to asylees and Cuban and Haitian entrants who have not yet received their social security numbers. Similarly, States should not deny ORR-funded assistance and services to any eligible applicant because he or she does not have a social security number.
Other Benefit Programs
For other benefit programs, such as Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), Medicaid and Food Stamps, the specific rules and procedures for social security number inquiries vary. ORR recommends that States review the Policy Guidance Regarding Inquiries into Citizenship, Immigration Status and Social Security Numbers ("Policy Guidance"), issued jointly by HHS and the Department of Agriculture, for more information about the rules and procedures for other benefit programs. A copy of the Policy Guidance is enclosed.
Cases when a Social Security Number is Required
If an individual is required to provide a social security number for another benefit program, such as Medicaid, but the social security number application requires documentation that the individual has not yet obtained, the individual instead may apply for a non-work social security number. In the case of asylees and Cuban and Haitian entrants, the application process for a non-work social security number may allow these individuals to access benefits more quickly. (See 20 C.F.R. §§422.104 and 422.107.) Applicants will need to present a letter from the benefit-granting agency that:
(1) is on letterhead
(2) includes the applicant's name
(3) references the non-work reason for which the number is required and
(4) states that the applicant meets the requirements to receive the benefit except for the social security number.
The letter cannot be a generic application, form letter or photocopy. (See SSA POMS RM 00203.510.) If necessary, the individual can apply later to the SSA to change the social security number so that it can be used for work purposes.
While Medicaid, TANF and Food Stamp eligibility rules require applicants for benefits who do not have social security numbers to apply for them, the State may not delay, deny or discontinue assistance pending the issuance of their social security numbers. States and local agencies also must assist applicants to apply for social security numbers.
(1) Any application form used for ORR-funded assistance and services should state clearly that individuals do not need to provide a social security number in order to receive ORR-funded assistance and services. States may continue to use application forms that have a space for the social security number. However, the form's instructions must state clearly that the social security number is not a requirement for receipt of ORR-funded assistance and services. It also should state how the number will be used if the applicant provides it. For example, a State may include a comment noting that it uses social security numbers to report on secondary migration.
(2) If a State's computer system requires caseworkers to input a social security number in order to process an application, States should consider using a dummy number when a social security number is not provided.
(3) If States use joint application forms for a number of benefits, such as TANF, Medicaid and Food Stamps, the States should review the attached Policy Guidance and make any necessary modifications so that their application forms are consistent with the guidance.
If you have questions about any of the information in this State Letter, please call AnnaMarie Bena at (202) 260-5186.