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Budget bill bans public access for three years

Yes, the budget bill was signed into law.

No, there wasn’t any Christmas miracle.

Tombstone_cgbugYes, the language that eliminates public access to the Social Security Death Master File — also known as the Social Security Death Index (SSDI) — for three calendar years after an individual’s death was in the budget bill when it was signed.

No, nobody crossed out the language exempting the SSDI information from the federal Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).

The budget was signed into law on Thursday of last week, December 26th. It includes that dratted closure of the SSDI and the exemption of SSDI information from FOIA, sold to Congress on the flimsiest of threads — as a purported revenue-enhancing measure.

The argument was that it would save up to $60 billion in fraud by preventing identity theft and the filing of false tax returns (and it won’t) and that it would raise up to $500 million in new revenue by requiring those who do get access to the information to pay for a certification program (and it might raise at least some portion of that amount).

So where does that leave us, here on what we can all hope is the last bad-news-day of 2013?

Here’s the big immediate impact, and it’s from the fact that the FOIA exemption took effect the minute the budget bill was signed: genealogists should not — I repeat, we should not — order SS-5 forms (requests for issuance of a Social Security number) for anyone who has died in the last three years.

The FOIA exemption means that all requests for “information on the name, social security account number, date of birth, and date of death of deceased individuals maintained by the Commissioner of Social Security” of people who’ve died in the three calendar years before the request will be denied. So there’s no sense in wasting our time or money sending in tons of requests for SS-5s on recently-deceased relatives.

The second big effect will be to stop reporting new deaths on the SSDI, and while the law says it won’t take effect for 90 days from the signing of the law — or 26 March 2014 — it’s unlikely that any updated version of the SSDI will be available from now on until three calendar years have passed from the date of any individual’s death.

As of today, existing SSDI data that’s online is remaining online. No online service provider has indicated any intention of pulling any information that’s already available. But new information won’t be available for some time.


Here’s to a happier New Year… we hope.

Image: adapted from user cgbug, Open ClipArt Library

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