"There are always privacy concerns around this [issue]," said Stephanie Walton, a child support expert at the National Conference of State Legislatures. "Back when states were dealing with passing the child-support requirements, this was an area of controversy."
The Michigan Debate
Nevertheless, nearly every state now collects Social Security numbers on license applications, divorce decrees, paternity establishments and numerous other forms. A few states have received exemptions from one or two of the provisions. Montana doesnt have to note the numbers on death certificates, and Wisconsin was granted a limited religion-based exemption for certain provisions.
But many other requests have been turned down. Walton said Oregon and Montana were denied their requests not to collect Social Security numbers on hunting and fisherman licenses for minors under the age of 16 and have since reapplied for exemption.
Michigans Department of State gave a much stronger response when its August 2000 exemption request was denied: Well see you in court. "Right now, we have 10 million records that our Family Independence Agency has direct access to," said Anne Corgan, director of the states Legal Services Bureau. "When they search those records for an individual, they succeed in finding that person better than 90 percent of the time."
A switch by the state to using Social Security numbers to track down delinquent parents would result not only in a smaller search database -- seven million names instead of 10 million -- but an increase in costs, as well. "We would have to develop a new process for collecting and storing Social Security numbers that have significant cost implications to us," said Corgan.
OCSE reimburses 66 percent of a states administrative costs, but according to Michigans complaint, that would still leave $20 million in unreimbursed expenses. The state would lose an additional $20 million in "incentive" funds that are paid to states based on the cost effectiveness of their child-support enforcement systems.
The states complaint also argues that the collection of Social Security numbers on drivers license applications is not reasonably related to the collection of child support, violates its citizens (unwritten) "fundamental right to privacy" and that the federal government has violated the Constitutions Tenth Amendment. "It is interfering with the sovereignty of the state of Michigan and every other state," said Corgan.
Corgan said the Secretary of States office has received "tremendous support from individual citizens in Michigan and throughout the country," but no support from other states.
That could soon change. Maine Representative Harold A. Clough, R-Scarborough, has sponsored a legislative document (LD89) that would eliminate the need for Maine citizens to provide a Social Security number when applying for a drivers license. "A lot of people are complaining about the invasion of privacy [that comes with] having to use their Social Security number for a whole bunch of things that it was never designed for," said Clough. "Some of them arent renewing [their licenses]."
The draft of the bill hasnt gone to hearing yet, but Clough is aware of the possibility of losing federal funds. "Well get into that when we hear the bill," he said. "Im not sure that we couldnt find a way around it."
Michigans lawsuit will undoubtedly show him whether thats possible. At press time the suit hadnt yet been heard, but Michigan has already been threatened with the loss of a TANF block grant by the Department of Health and Human Services -- a loss of funds that would total more than $900 million.
"We dont think theyll do that," said Anne Corgan. "But the ball is in their court."