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Sounding a call to action to save our access to the SSDI

On Thursday of this coming week (February 2, 2012), the Subcommittee on Social Security of the House Ways & Means Committee in Washington, D.C., will hold hearings that have the capacity to drastically affect the access of genealogists to the Social Security Death Index (“SSDI”) and related underlying information.

You can read the press release from subcommittee chairman Sam Johnson (R-Texas) here and — trust me on this one — it ain’t friendly to genealogists and our day-to-day use of the SSDI. We all need to be crystal clear on this: Rep. Johnson’s bill would effectively mean an end to public access to the Social Security death master file (the essential source for the SSDI) completely.

Only invited witnesses will be allowed to present oral testimony at Thursday’s hearings. In Washington-speak, that means “the deck is stacked.” But all of us, as citizens and as genealogists, can be heard. All we have to do (yeah, all we have to do, right, I hear you, but do it anyway!) is: (a) get the facts; (b) understand the arguments; and (c) speak up — write, call, or e-mail the subcommittee, its members and our own Representatives.

Step 1: Get the Facts

We need to be careful to have our facts straight and not sink access to one type of record in order to save access to another. It might sound easy to argue “it’s birth certificates, not Social Security numbers, that cause problems!” Right. And you know what would happen next, right? Right. We’d lose even more access to birth certificates.

So… don’t wing it! Get your talking points straight from those who’ve worked hard to get the facts for the genealogical community. The Records Preservation & Access Committee (a joint committee of the Federation of Genealogical Societies, the National Genealogical Society, and the International Association of Jewish Genealogical Societies) has an online guide you should carefully read.

Get the online guide HERE.

UPDATE: You can also see the RPAC letter to the Committee here.

Step 2: Understand the Arguments

Here’s where we take a step back, each of us, and remember that there ARE arguments on the other side of this issue. People DO have issues with privacy, they DO have fears and concerns, and we are NOT going to answer those fears and concerns with anything less than careful, reasoned arguments.

Step 3: Speak Up!

First off, the subcommittee has a specific system set up for any of us, as individuals or as local societies, etc., to have our views included in the record of these hearings. The system is described in the press release:

Any person(s) and/or organization(s) wishing to submit for the hearing record must follow the appropriate link on the hearing page of the Committee website and complete the informational forms. From the Committee homepage,, select “Hearings.” Select the hearing for which you would like to submit, and click on the link entitled, “Click here to provide a submission for the record.” Once you have followed the online instructions, submit all requested information. ATTACH your submission as a Word or WordPerfect document, in compliance with the formatting requirements listed below, by the close of business on Tuesday, February 16, 2012.

This link — here — should take you directly to the submissions page for these hearings.

The formatting requirements are:

1. All submissions and supplementary materials must be provided in Word or WordPerfect format and MUST NOT exceed a total of 10 pages, including attachments. Witnesses and submitters are advised that the Committee relies on electronic submissions for printing the official hearing record.

2. Copies of whole documents submitted as exhibit material will not be accepted for printing. Instead, exhibit material should be referenced and quoted or paraphrased. All exhibit material not meeting these specifications will be maintained in the Committee files for review and use by the Committee.

3. All submissions must include a list of all clients, persons and/or organizations on whose behalf the witness appears. A supplemental sheet must accompany each submission listing the name, company, address, telephone, and fax numbers of each witness.

NOTE THAT TIME IS RUNNING. February 16 is the deadline for submissions for the hearings.

Second, we can — individually and on behalf of any organizations we lead — contact the members of the subcommittee to express our views. Some members accept e-mails from all citizens; others expressly say they only accept and respond to e-mails from their own constituents. Here’s the list with links to the members’ contact pages. You can use these links to either e-mail or to get the address for the office if the member has to be contacted by regular mail:

Members, House Ways & Means Committee, Subcommittee on Social Security:

Sam Johnson, TX, Chairman (bill sponsor) – note: email only from constituents, so write
Xavier Becerra, CA
Rick Berg, ND (bill co-sponsor)
Shelley Berkley, NV – note: email only from constituents, so write
Kevin Brady, TX (bill co-sponsor)
Lloyd Doggett, TX
Kenny Marchant, TX (bill co-sponsor) – note: email only from constituents, so write
Aaron Schock, IL (bill co-sponsor) – note: email only from constituents, so write
Adrian Smith, NE – note: email only from constituents, so write
Fortney Pete Stark, CA
Pat Tiberi, OH (bill co-sponsor) – note: email only from constituents, so write

Third, don’t forget your own Congressional representative. Even if he or she isn’t on the committee, it’s never too soon to start educating the House members on this issue — and letting them all know they have constituents who care about keeping access to the SSDI. You can find the contact information for your own representative by going to the home page for the U.S. House of Representatives and using the Find Your Representative search box at the bottom. Just enter your zip code and click the GO button.

Now… maybe doing what needs to be done to be able to speak up effectively seems daunting. Yeah, maybe it’s a lot of work. But how much MOREdaunting it is to think of never again being able to access the SSDI? How much MOREwork will it be to have to find the information it provides? It’s THAT important. Let’s get to work!

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