Democrats blast return of ‘no-match’ letters

House Democrats are protesting a directive from the Social Security Administration (SSA) to resume the practice of sending so-called no-match letters that alert employers to irregularities with their employees’ Social Security numbers (SSN).
The Trump administration recently reinstated the letters, which were terminated under President George W. Bush in 2007. Under the practice, the SSA notifies employers of irregularities with their SSNs or registration names of workers they employ.
The no-match letters, Democrats argue, are being instituted as part of the Trump administration’s crackdown on immigration as a measure of outing to employers undocumented immigrants working with false or stolen SSNs.{mosads}
The agency has defended the practice of using the letters in the past, telling NPR in late March that it was focused on improving the accuracy of its record.

“If we cannot match the name and SSN reported on a W-2 to our records, we cannot credit earnings to a worker’s record,” spokesman Mark Hinkle said in a statement at the time. “When earnings are missing, the worker may not qualify for Social Security benefits he or she is due or the benefit amount may be incorrect.”

Forty-six House Democrats signed a letter sent to Social Security Administration acting Commissioner Nancy Berryhill on Thursday urging her agency to retract the March order imposing the letters, known as Employer Correction Request Notices.
“This action will cause numerous problems by diverting resources away from frontline workers whose primary mission is administering benefits,” the Democrats wrote. “Additionally, this rule can result in increased discrimination and abuses against U.S. workers, particularly women.”
Another letter signed by 146 labor and immigration organizations and sent to Berryhill on Thursday made the case that no-match letters are ineffective, endanger U.S. citizens and labor rights, and could overwhelm SSA resources.
“Other than to instill fear and to add to the series of attacks that have come down against the immigrant community — whether it’s the Census question, whether it’s the public charge initiative against lawful permanent residents — this is one more tool in their arsenal, I think, to drive the community into the shadows of society, to create more anti-immigrant sentiment in the country and just to create fear and instability in communities with large immigrant populations,” said Rep. Jesús García (D-Ill.), the lead signatory of the Democratic letter.
The SSA did not immediately return a request for comment.
The employer no-match letters were discontinued in 2007 because they proved ineffective at correcting SSN discrepancies, said Jessie Hahn, a labor and employment policy attorney with the National Immigration Law Center.
According to reports by the SSA inspector general and the Government Accountability Office, the no-match letters also proved to be ineffective at weeding out undocumented workers.
“Our best guess from that time, and there’s no more recent data than that time, is that close to 70 percent of the records pertain to native born U.S. citizens, because so many things can cause an error,” said Hahn.
Common discrepancies that could now trigger a no-match letter include changed names from marriage, typos and misspellings.
And minorities are especially at risk of being inadvertently targeted, as names in foreign languages or using different naming conventions are more prone to those types of errors, Hahn said.
The new no-match program is also different from the one canceled in 2007, in that the previous program only sent the letters to employers who had 10 or more employees with discrepancies, while the new one is set to inform of every discrepancy in the SSA database.
“We expect that many small business employers will be receiving this letter and are going to feel in a huge bind, and it creates a sense that they may be doing something unlawful and that they’re going to get in trouble,” said Garcia.
“Most of them don’t know what to do, they may think they’re in a unique situation, that it’s an isolated incident. We want to let the community know that this is a much larger problem,” he added.
Hahn said that a report on the terminated program found “that roughly a third of the people who were fired as a result of the no-match letter were not even given a chance to update their records.”
The no-match letter program was originally replaced by a program to send letters to employees directly, but that was terminated because of budget cuts despite it being 11-times as effective at correcting discrepancies, Hahn added.
García said that he hopes to inform the public and fellow lawmakers about the issue so employers know to seek legal counsel as letters are sent around the country.
“Part of the reason we have gone public in this way with 45 signatures by members so far, is we believe this issue will mushroom in the following days and weeks in communities that have immigrant populations,” he said.
“What’s the purpose? What’s the aim here? We think it is simply to create distrust, to advance the anti-immigrant rhetoric that’s out there,” added García.
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