|Civil Division- New Castle County
||May 6, 2002
Ms. Elaine Archangelo
Division of Social Services
Herman M. Holloway, Sr. Campus
1901 N. DuPont Highway - Main Building
New Castle, DE 19720
Re: Computer Matching and Release of Information to Law Enforcement Agencies
Dear Ms. Archangelo:
You have asked that we resolve a conflict between two agencies within the Department of Health and Social Services ("DHSS"). The Audit and Recovery Management Services ("ARMS") unit within the Division of Management Services ("DMS") seeks to engage in certain computer matches that would match specified databases against the public assistance database administered by the Division of Social Services ("DSS"). The specified databases against which ARMS seeks to do a computer match are as follows:
The Public Assistance Reporting Information System identifies individuals who received public assistance in more than one state during a month.
TALON is an initiative of the USDA Office of Inspector General that seeks to match information from law enforcement agencies against the food stamp database to identify and apprehend persons who are fleeing felons.
The National Crime Information Center is a database maintained by the FBI. ARMS wants to match every DSS public assistance client and provider against the NCIC database.
ARMS seeks to match the DSS public assistance client and provider databases against DELJIS.
The specific DSS databases against which ARMS wants to run these four databases are the recipients of Temporary Assistance for Needy Families ("TANF") database, the food stamp database, the Medicaid database, the general assistance database, and the database containing records of child care payments. This latter database contains records of child care funded by the Child Care Development Fund block grant, the Social Services block grant, food stamps employment and training funds, and the General Fund. ARMS' purposes in seeking the matches are twofold. First, ARMS seeks to identify and eliminate fraud within the public assistance system by terminating assistance to and sanctioning public assistance recipients who are not eligible for assistance. Second, ARMS seeks to uncover accurate identifying information for persons sought by law enforcement officials because of their involvement in criminal activities independent of the public assistance system. It is believed that addresses in the DSS databases may be more accurate in some cases than some addresses contained in the NCIC and DELJIS databases.
The issues raised by ARMS and DSS relate to the confidentiality interests of both DSS clients and service providers. Certain public assistance programs specify conditions under which information that identifies clients may be released. Other public assistance programs are either silent on the issue or restrict the disclosure of information on program recipients to purposes directly related to the administration of the program. Finally, no law that governs public assistance programs addresses the issue of releasing identifying information on providers. DSS asks that we advise as to which public assistance databases ARMS can match against the four databases listed above.
The areas of disagreement between DSS and ARMS may be narrowed. First, we note that DSS and ARMS agree that PARIS, which seeks only to identify eligibility issues within the public assistance program, may be matched against the databases of each of the public assistance programs. Second, we note that the TALON initiative was not funded on the federal level. Therefore, ARMS no longer requests that the DSS databases be matched against the TALON database. The remaining databases at issue are the NCIC and DELJIS databases because a computer match of these databases against the public assistance and provider databases is not always for purposes related to the administration of the public assistance program. However, even among these proposed computer matches, there are areas where ARMS and DSS agree. So third, DSS recognizes that federal law expressly permits a computer match of the NCIC and DELJIS databases against the TANF database (42 U.S.C. §608)(a)(9)(B)), the food stamp database (7 U.S.C. §2020(e)(8)(D), 7 CFR §272.1(c)(1)(vii)) and the general assistance database (31 Del.C. §1101).
The remaining areas on which DSS and DMS seek legal guidance are whether there are federal or state laws that prohibit DHSS from running the NCIC and DELJIS databases against the Medicaid database, the DSS child care database, and the databases of the service providers for all of DSS' public assistance programs. We address each in turn.
1. DSS child care database
The federal laws that apply to funds in the DSS child care database are silent on whether the information about block grant recipients may be disclosed to law enforcement officials. See 42 U.S.C. §9858 et seq. and 45 CFR Part 98 (Child Care Development Fund), 42 U.S.C. §1397 et seq and 45 CFR §§96.70-96.74 (Social Services block grant), and 7 U.S.C. §2015(d) and 7 CFR §271 et seq. (Food stamps employment and training). State statutes, too, are silent on this issue. The child care program is not one of the public assistance programs enumerated in the state statute requiring that its records remain confidential. 31 Del.C. §1101(b). We conclude that DSS may permit this computer match.
This proposed computer match is prohibited under both state and federal law. Medicaid does not impose the "fleeing felon" disqualification from eligibility that is imposed by the food stamps and TANF programs. Indeed, federal law prohibits the disclosure of information on Medicaid recipients unless the disclosure is directly related to the administration of the Medicaid program. 42 U.S.C. §1396a(a)(7), 42 CFR §§31.300-431.307. So too state law. See 31 Del. C. §1101. The only group of Medicaid recipients who are subject to the "fleeing felon" disqualification are persons receiving Medicaid by virtue of their qualification for SSI. SSI prohibits "fleeing felons" from eligibility. 42 U.S.C. §1382(e)(4). If this particular subset of Medicaid recipient can be isolated, it may be computer matched against the four databases as ARMS proposes.
Finally, a note about the State Children's Health Insurance Program. This program, which pays for medical services for children who do not qualify for Medicaid, is bound to adhere to the privacy protections applicable to the Medicaid program, 42 CFR §457.1110(b), and so cannot be computer matched as ARMS requests.
3. Service Providers
There are no laws that protect identifying information about persons under contract with DSS to provide services to public assistance recipients. In fact, such information is subject to disclosure under the Freedom of Information Act. The only bar would be the uncodified provision of the Federal Privacy Act of 1974 that addresses practices by state governments. Section 7 of Pub. L. 93-579, which is noted under 5 U.S.C. §552a, prohibits governmental bodies from requiring individuals to provide their social security numbers under most circumstances. We have discussed this issue with ARMS and been assured that the match can be performed without the use of social security numbers. Therefore, this information can be computer matched.
Please do not hesitate to contact me if we can be of additional assistance.
Very truly yours,
A. Ann Woolfolk
Deputy Attorney General
Calvin L. Scott, Jr.
Deputy Attorney General
Malcolm S. Cobin
cc: The Honorable M. Jane Brady, Attorney General
Philip Johnson, Opinion Coordinator