CONGRESSWOMAN ELISE STEFANIK
On Tuesday, September 20, 2016, the House will consider H.R. 5320, Social Security Must Avert Identity Loss (MAIL) Act of 2016, under suspension of the rules. H.R. 5320 was introduced on May 25, 2016, by Rep. Sam Johnson (R-TX) and was referred to the Committee on Ways and Means, which ordered the bill reported as amended by voice vote on July 13, 2016.
H.R. 5320 amends Title II of the Social Security Act to direct the Social Security Administration (SSA) to ensure that documents it sends by mail do not include a complete Social Security account number (SSN) unless deemed necessary by the Commissioner of Social Security. Additionally, the bill requires the SSA to send bi-annual reports to Congress on its efforts to both remove SSNs from mailed documents and justify any continued use of SSNs on documents that the Commissioner of Social Security has deemed necessary.
Identity theft is one of the most serious and increasingly frequent issues affecting American citizens. Specifically, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), known as the agency on this issue, stated that complaints concerning identity theft in the United States increased by roughly 50 percent from 332,647 in 2014 to 490,220 in 2015. Because the Social Security account number (SSN) is used for a variety of services and transactions in the financial sector, it is often targeted for use by individuals and organizations involved with identity theft. The Social Security Administration (SSA) is aware of this potential danger and continues to stress that individuals protect and treat their SSNs as confidential information.
Furthermore, the SSA’s operations and entire business process revolve around the collection and use of SSNs because they are used to maintain each citizen’s earned income history as well as to help properly administer Social Security and Supplemental Security Income benefits. While the SSA has started to gradually remove the SSN from some documents, it continues to include it on other documents. Specifically, the SSA first removed the full SSN from the Social Security Statement in 2001 and also from the annual Social Security cost-of-living notice in 2002. Two years later, in 2004, the SSN was eliminated from SSA checks.
In an ongoing attempt to mitigate personal information breaches, the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) issued a memorandum in 2007, stating that all agencies have the responsibility to protect personally identifiable information that is possessed or used by the government. Despite this initiative, as of 2015, an estimated 66 percent of the SSA’s 352 million annually-mailed notices still contain full SSNs. Furthermore, in 2016, the SSA Office of Inspector General (OIG) issued a report that raised concerns regarding the continued inclusion of SSNs in many of the SSA’s notices. The OIG report recommended that the SSA make this removal process a priority, and the SSA responded in agreement without providing a specific timeframe of implementation.
“Believe it or not Social Security actually mails documents with individuals’ full SSNs on them, even when it isn’t needed…This makes no sense,” according to the bill’s sponsor. In an age of both expanding technologies and growing identity theft concerns, this legislation will work to keep Americans’ identities safe by requiring the SSA to remove unnecessary SSNs from all mailed documents.
The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimates that enacting the bill would have no effect on the federal budget and would not affect direct spending or revenues. Therefore, pay-as-you-go procedures do not apply.
For questions or further information please contact John Wilson with the House Republican Policy Committee by email or at 6-1811.