As discussed in Chapter 4, Social Security Numbers (SSNs) are not required for non-applicant family or household members although they may be requested and provided on a voluntary basis. During eligibility interviews, workers in all sites generally ask for SSNs for applicants and, in Sedalia and Arlington, for non-applicants as well.13 If applicants cannot produce a SSN or say they do not have one, workers simply leave the space for this information blank.
According to discussions with some advocates and workers, immigrant households often include undocumented members and, therefore, if immigrant applicants do not understand that SSNs are not mandatory for everyone in the household, this may deter some from applying or following through with an application. Yet, SSNs are central items asked for by all eligibility workers of all applicants. Receptionist/intake workers in some sites ask for SSNs to check for current and previous benefit receipt on databases before the eligibility determination interview. SSNs are also necessary to verify current and recent employment — usually through state employment service records and new hire databases — for all household members in the case of food stamp applications. Additionally, as described earlier in this chapter, eligibility workers must verify work quarters with SSA when legal immigrants apply for food stamps. Applicants without SSNs are usually referred to SSA to obtain one, unless the eligibility worker determines that a SSN they have presented is not valid, or the applicant admits to having an invalid number.14
When applicants submit false or multiple SSNs, this can create extra work for eligibility workers. Workers respond by encouraging the applicant to be forthcoming on the issue so that an incorrect SSN will not be entered into the computer system. When income cannot be verified by database or workers suspect an incorrect SSN, applicants are often asked to produce pay stubs or provide verification directly from employers, as described below.