20 August 2015

August is the Right Time to Tell Your Senators About Your Record Access Concerns

This post comes to us courtesy of the Records and Preservation Access Committee (RPAC)

If you have ever used the Social Security Death Index (SSDI), now is the time for you to write your United States Senator. Section 203 of the 2013 Bipartisan Budget Act, which went into effect 29 March 2014, closed access to the Death Master File (used by genealogists as the Social Security Death Index) for three years after an individual's death. Access during the three-year embargo is limited to persons certified by the Commerce Department. Certification costs $400; the annual cost to access the data is $995; the available data is limited; the search engine inadequate; and recent audit and security requirements will make access unaffordable by even professional genealogists. The Final Rule for the certification process is expected from the Commerce Department any day. Genealogists need to be further concerned because the Social Security Administration (SSA) has been reporting less information since November 2011 when several states notified the SSA that its information could no longer be released to the public. This widely used national death database is being whittled away because of concerns about tax fraud of the deceased.

The Records Preservation and Access Committee (RPAC) and several of our participating organizations have written the Commerce Department and key legislators on this issue over the last several years.  Although genealogists are also concerned about identity theft of the deceased, we strongly believe the problem can be solved by omitting the Social Security Number (SSN) of the deceased from the Social Security Death Index. In addition progress has been made by the IRS in developing filters which flag fraudulent income tax returns. The Treasury Inspector General Tax Administration (TIGTA) Reports for 2011 and 2012 said less than 2% of all fraudulent tax refunds involved the deceased.

At the end of July the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee approved SB 1073, Stopping Improper Payments to Deceased People Act.  The bill was approved in a "business meeting" without a hearing. RPAC is making contacts with several Senators who could introduce the Amendment from the floor. Our request is simple, amend Section 203 of the 2013 Bipartisan Budget Act so the information in the Death Master File can be released to the public except for the Social Security Number.

Congress is currently recessed until 7 September 2015. Now is a good time to contact your Senators, either in person or by writing a letter. We have included talking points that you can use to make a personal visit or write a letter.  We need your support. For additional background visit the RPAC Blog at http://www.fgs.org/rpac  and see the posts on 1 April 2015, "DMF—Comment Period on Proposed Final Rule Closed 30 March," and under the Publications tab, "SSDI Timeline, 19 January 2015."

The Records Preservation and Access Committee (RPAC), is a national committee sponsored by the Federation of Genealogical Societies (FGS), the International Association of Jewish Genealogical Societies (IAJGS), and the National Genealogical Society (NGS) and supported by the Association of Professional Genealogists (APG), the Board for Certification of Genealogists (BCG), the American Society of Genealogists (ASG), and the International Commission for the Accreditation of Professional Genealogists (ICAPGen). Members of RPAC meet monthly to advise the genealogical community on ensuring proper access to vital records and on supporting strong records preservation policies and practices. 

With all of the decisions put in front of Senators, do not assume that they understand the intricacies of all proposed legislation, such as SB 1073, Stopping Improper Payments to Deceased People Act. If we all make our voices heard, hopefully the final legislation will be a win-win by ensuring access to information that is both helpful to genealogists while maintaining the privacy of information (in this case social security numbers) to support Homeland Security.

Editor's Note: Details on the bill can be found here.

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