Federal Relations

July 27, 2001

Social Security Inspector General Testifies Before Congress

Social Security Administration Inspector General John G. Huse, Jr. testified May 22 before a House Ways and Means subcommittee, calling the misuse of the Social Security Number a "national crisis" and arguing that the time has come to put the SSN "back into its box."

Home School Legal Defense Association has reviewed the text of his speech and believes his frank statement is a wake-up call to Americans who value their privacy from people who monitor their daily activities and from criminals who steal money, credit and even identity.

Social Security was created in 1935 for the sole purpose of tracking Americans' earnings in order to properly credit their wages. Americans were promised that it would not be used for anything else. The Department of Defense now uses the SSN for armed forces and draft registration, and the Internal Revenue Service requires it for income tax returns and bank deposits to ensure that all income has been declared. It doesn't stop there. Federal, state, and local governments also use the SSN for issuing food stamps and driver's licenses, to marriage licenses and water and sewer bills. Inspector General Huse warns that this is "a convenience that we can no longer afford." This is clear from the recent cases of identity theft using social security numbers.

Schools, colleges, hospitals, banks, insurance companies, credit card companies, and merchants, use the number to identify their members or for purchases and transactions such as buying a refrigerator.

Subcommittee Chairman and Congressman Clay Shaw said, "More and more people are being told their SSN is required for reasons that just don't make sense, like renting a video, making funeral arrangements, or even picking up Girl Scout cookies."

Inspector General Huse called for legislation that limits the use of the SSN to "purposes that benefit the holder of the SSN," not "the company that sells an appliance or the state that issues a driver's license."

States are beginning to respond to government misuse of SSNs. The Nevada Legislature recently passed a resolution calling on Congress to repeal the law that requires each state to record the SSN on driver's license applications. The Michigan Secretary of State has filed suit to enjoin the enforcement of this law.

Why do home schoolers care about this issue?

The majority of families that object to the use of Social Security Numbers for their dependents do so out of religious conviction. While these few thousand families represent a minority of Americans, they are culturally and denominationally diverse. For example, the families that we surveyed on this issue are from Catholic, Baptist, Pentecostal, Church of Christ, Amish/Mennonite and non-denominational churches. Yet within this diversity, families share two major religious objections to the requirement of Social Security Numbers for their children:

Issue of Jurisdiction

Many families believe Jesus Christ taught that children are a gift from God to parents. When challenged by the Pharisees on the issue of taxation, Jesus said that we are to "Render unto Caesar what is Caesar's and unto God what is God's." This teaching in context makes it very clear that there is a separate jurisdiction between the function of Church and State. The State is in charge of taxation and of collecting money, but children are a gift to parents, and parents have the responsibility of raising their children separate from the State. We can argue against this idea but the courts have protected "conscientious objectors" from the Amish community for decades. The legislatures and courts have also protected home schoolers in the exercise of separation for the last 15 years. These families have decided that they are to protect their children from State oversight until the child is old enough to make the personal decision whether or not to use a Social Security Number. This is a serious issue in American jurisprudence.

Universal Identifier

Some families strongly object to Social Security Numbers based on their understanding of teachings in the Bible. These families believe that there is a punishment associated with receiving a mark, an identifier if you will, for their children. The concern is not necessarily that the Social Security Number is "the mark" but that this form of identification, which is becoming increasingly universal, will one day lead to chip implantation or biometric identification. If families obtained a Social Security Number for their children, which has basically evolved into a universal identification number, then these families believe that they will have demonstrated an endorsement of this practice to their children and it will undermine their faith. This is unacceptable to many families who would rather lose money than be found unfaithful to what they believe God teaches.

This is a basic summary of the religious objections. It is important to remember that this is not necessarily a denominational issue or large religious organization that is pushing for protection of the exercise of these beliefs. These are personal, family decisions. We believe that these families are indeed sincere in their beliefs and are entitled to the exercise of their beliefs without penalty from the Internal Revenue System. Passing H.R. 2494 would prevent infringement upon religious freedom, if only for a minority of dedicated families.

In 1999, Congressmen John Hostettler (R-IN) and Congressman Goodling (R-PA) teamed up to protect religious freedom by fixing a discrimination policy to the IRS tax code. Under this policy, families with a religious objection to SSNs would no longer be required to obtain a number for their children in order to claim them as dependents and thus qualify for deductions and tax credits. HSLDA is working with Congress to submit a new version of this bill in the 107th Congress.

Since Congress amended the tax code in 1996 to require SSNs for dependents, HSLDA has received hundreds of complaints from families who were denied tax deductions. Forced to absorb this extra tax burden, some of these families have paid in excess of three and four thousand dollars per year to the IRS.

In lieu of an SSN, H.R. 2494 will allow parents to provide alternative documentation to the IRS, including an affidavit describing their religious objection and other articles proving the dependent's relationship to the taxpayer (i.e., birth certificate, medical records or school records).

HSLDA is investigating the possibility of an administrative, rather than a legislative, solution. However working inside the Social Security Administration is looking difficult and it seems that a legislative solution is the best direction. We have contacted Congressman E. Clay Shaw, House Ways and Means SubCommittee Chairman, to sponsor this bill in the 107th Congress.

To read the complete text of the Inspector General's testimony visit: http://waysandmeans.house.gov/socsec/107cong/5-22-01/5-22huse.htm