Notice & Comment

SSA Proposes Rule to Make Applying for SSN Easier, by Elisabeth Ulmer

The Social Security Administration (“SSA”) seeks comment on its proposed rule to modify its regulations so that, in addition to submitting the required evidence, Social Security number (“SSN”) applicants may complete a “prescribed application,” instead of a paper Form SS-5, “Application for a Social Security Card”).  The suggested changes are intended to make applying for a SSN easier and to make way for the online application process currently being designed.

Of all the services offered at the SSA, the application for a Social Security card is one of the most commonly used.  In 2013, the SSA reported receiving 10 million replacement SSN card applications.  When someone desires to find a job, record wages, collect Social Security benefits, or apply for many other government services, he or she must have a SSN.  Even banks and credit companies will often ask for it.

Persons who wish to apply for a SSN have two options (both of which currently require hard copies of supporting documentary evidence).  They can fill out Form SS-5 and either mail or hand-deliver it to their local field office or a Social Security Card Center.  Alternatively, the applicant can visit a SSA office and ask a representative to file, on his or her behalf, an application through the electronic Social Security Number Application Process.  However, the paper-based application process is too time-consuming for the large number of applications that the SSA receives.  As seen in 2013, millions of applications are filed, and it takes about 14 minutes to process each one.

Thus, with the assistance of recent technological advances, the SSA is developing an online application for certain eligible individuals, such as adult U.S. citizens whose records do not need any changes in name, birth date, etc.  Users of the online application would need to register through the my Social Security portal and possess both a U.S. mailing address and a valid U.S. state-issued driver’s license or U.S. state-issued ID.

The SSA says that this new option will allow it “to provide expanded service options that meet the varied needs of the public in a cost-efficient and environmentally responsible way.”  The online application would streamline the process of obtaining a replacement SSN for both applicants and the SSA.  Applicants would not need to mail the application or visit a SSA office, and SSA would be able to process applications more quickly.  Nevertheless, the SSA emphasizes that this new option will not compromise the security and integrity of the application process.

Aside from discussing the forthcoming electronic SSN application in its proposed rule, the SSA also mentions four other changes with respect to applying for a SSN.  First, because of the new online option, the SSA would like to remove from 20 CFR 422.103 and 422.110 the requirement that applicants for a replacement SSN card “must file an application at any Social Security office.”

Second, because the electronic application will not require applicants to complete a Form SS-5, the SSA plans to delete references to this paper form and, where necessary, replace them with the term, “prescribed application.”  It will refer to either a paper-based or electronic application.  Third, in order to establish eligibility and identity when someone applies for an original or replacement SSN card, 20 CFR 422.107 states that he or she must provide “documentary” evidence.  The SSA proposes to eliminate this identifier so that applicants may submit other types of evidence.

Finally, in 2003, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security replaced the Immigration and Naturalization Service, which was divided into Customs and Border Protection, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, and U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.  Accordingly, in section 422.107(e)(1), the SSA plans to replace references to “Immigration and Naturalization Service” with “Department of Homeland Security.”

Comments on this proposed rule are due on April 27, 2015.  Interested parties are invited to submit comments by any of the following methods:

  • Submitting comments electronically on the Federal eRulemaking Portal: 
  • Faxing comments to (410) 966-2830 
  • Mail your comments to the Office of Regulations and Reports Clearance, Social Security Administration, 3100 West High Rise Building, 6401 Security Boulevard, Baltimore, Maryland 21235-6401

The SSA cautions commenters not to include any personal information, such as Social Security numbers or medical information. All comments should include Docket No. SSA-2014-0042.

This post was originally published on the legacy ABA Section of Administrative Law and Regulatory Practice Notice and Comment blog, which merged with the Yale Journal on Regulation Notice and Comment blog in 2015.

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