SSA: Bill would give cons gains

For a decade, the Social Security Administration has been pursuing incarcerated SSA benefit recipients to ensure they do not receive benefit checks while in jail — a program that keeps hundreds of millions of dollars each year out of the hands of prisoners.

But if a legislative effort to halt identity theft via improper use and distribution of Social Security numbers is successful, prisoners on Social Security could be back in the money.

That's because Social Security numbers are at the heart of the system used to report inmates — first to SSA and then to the departments of Veterans Affairs and Education — and a bill just re-introduced to Congress would cut out that heart.

"It's not a legitimate use [of the number]. No agency should know your Social Security number other than the Social Security Administration," said Jeff Deist, spokesman for Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas), sponsor of the Identity Theft Protection Act of 2001. The bill "would make it impossible for any department to use the number in any way," he said. That includes jails and prisons that process inmates and then send their information to Social Security.

Social Security officials opposed the bill last year when Paul first offered it, saying it would damage a program the agency estimates saves $500 million a year. The bill died at the committee level last year, but Deist said Paul is trying again.

SSA spokesman Mark Hinkle said he had not seen the updated bill, but indicated that the agency opposed it last year.

Providing Social Security numbers has "been very successful in terms of our reporting process with facilities around the country, and our ability to determine if a person should be suspended" from payments, said Linda Zampelli, program analyst for SSA's office of operations. About 95 percent of inmate facilities have signed contracts to report possible benefit recipients to SSA, she said.

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