The American Civil Liberties Union yesterday denounced an administration proposal to create a central data bank containing information on tens of millions of welfare recipients. The data bank could be used by state and federal agencies to check welfare cheating and fraudulent multiple applications for benefits.
John Shattuck, director of the ACLU officer here, said, "Any centralizing of data about a large number of citizens, and providing it to state and local officials, has the potentiality of allowing government [to use it for] various kinds of reprisals, searches and routine checks" with little regard for privacy.
The proposal was described by Health and Human Services Secretary Richard S. Schweiker in testimony on Capitol Hill last month.
"Because a central information system does not now exist," Schweiker said, "the same individual may now file for and receive multiple benefits. . . . This national system will enable states to access a common file containing information on benefits received by individuals from the various welfare programs. This will enable states to verify that an individual is not already receiving welfare benefits, thus preventing fraud and abuse.
"In addition, we propose to provide full access to information in federal, state and local files to those public officials who need the information to fulfill their responsibilities. . . ."
Although a final draft of the proposal has not been sent to Congress, and Schweiker says he has not approved any details yet, the tentative provisions were outlined in a March 10 letter to the House Ways and Means Committee and in a draft bill.
The computerized data bank would list individuals receiving public benefits under such programs as Aid to Families with Dependent Children; supplemental security assistance for destitute aged, blind and disabled; and apparently (details are not spelled out) the publicly assisted housing, food stamp, Medicaid and veterans programs.
The draft bill states that relevant information about individuals from the records of the Internal Revenue Service, Veterans Administration, Office of Personnel Management, Railroad Retirement and Social Security Administration would be made available through the data bank.