The Application Process For TANF, Food Stamps, Medicaid, and SCHIP. Social Security Numbers

01/01/2003

A Social Security Number (SSN) is required of all persons who apply for benefits but is not necessary for non-applicant members of a household.6 Integrated applications typically provide non-applicants the opportunity to write in SSNs along with those of the applicant(s). While having SSNs for non-applicants may make it easier to verify certain types of information for eligibility determination purposes, applications are supposed to clarify that disclosure of these SSNs is completely voluntary and that failure to provide an SSN will not adversely affect eligibility.7 This is relevant for immigrant families with some members who are not eligible for assistance and do not have SSNs.

All integrated applications used by the study sites indicate that SSNs are not required of all members of the household. Some applications explicitly state that only applicants should submit SSNs, while others may request SSNs for non-applicants but also state it is not necessary to provide this information (see Exhibit 4-2). For example, the Arlington integrated application requests, but clearly does not require, the SSNs for all members of the household. The general instructions for filling out that section of the application instructs applicants to provide the requested information "…for everyone who lives in your home, even if you are not applying for that person. You may leave questions about citizenship, immigration and Social Security Number blank for anyone for whom you are NOT requesting assistance." This point is emphasized further in the specific column heading designated for SSNs, where the instructions reiterate that the applicant may leave the space blank for anyone not in the assistance request.

In New York, a clarifying statement about when SSNs are required appears in a separate instruction booklet that accompanies the integrated application. However, this information might be overlooked if the applicant does not carefully crosswalk the instructions with the application form, particularly since SSNs are requested on the actual application under the heading, "Social Security Numbers of Applying Household Members."8 Advocates in New York City stated a preference to have the spaces blacked out where SSNs are collected from non-applicants and include no SSN-related questions for non-applicants — an approach found in the Texas integrated application.

The Texas integrated application does not have a space on the application to write down the SSNs of non-applicant members in the household. The application contains two tables that collect information about household members — one for applicants and one for non-applicants. SSNs are requested only in the table designated for applicants. In addition, different parts of the application used in Dallas include the following statements:

You will not have to provide Social Security numbers or immigration status information or documents for any family members who are not eligible because of immigration status and who are not asking for benefits.

You will be asked to provide Social Security Numbers (SSNs) for all persons (including yourself) for whom you want assistance. If any of these persons do not have an SSN, we can help you apply for one. Providing or applying for an SSN is voluntary; however, any person who wants assistance but who doesn't want to give information about his or her SSN will not be eligible for benefits. Other family or household members may still get benefits if they are otherwise eligible. If you are applying only for emergency Medicaid because of your immigration status, you do not need to give us information about your SSN.

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