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How many deaths before the SSDI gets updated again?

Posted by on in Legislation Federal
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On 26 December 2013, President Barack Obama signed into law the 2013 Ryan-Murray Budget Compromise Bill. Paul Ryan and Patty Murray chaired the joint Senate-House committee that came to the budget agreement. Congress is mandated to pass budgets that balance, which means that every new cost in the budget must be offset by a tax, fee, or savings. Section 203 of the budget bill describes a savings that is an offset to other costs. We discussed the ramifications of Section 203 last December.

The National Technical Information Systems (NTIS) is the government division that sells the underlying database that the big genealogy websites put up as the Social Security Death Index (SSDI). As a result of the 2013 budget bill, NTIS had to enact two different levels of SSDI access. One level was for genealogists who could no longer access death information until the end of the third calendar year after a person’s death. The other level was for financial institutions, who could access what NTIS called the Limited Access Death Master File during the period when it was in fact closed to everyone else. Some forensic genealogists qualified through the certification program and one of them has shared her experiences.

The law required NTIS to charge only as much as it cost to implement the new system. The actual budget offset came from the projected savings that would be realized by the Internal Revenue Service if they prevented just 1.8% of the fraudulent payments they were making.

We can estimate an answer to the question “How many deaths before the SSDI gets updated again?” The U.S. Centers for Disease Control found that 2,515,458 people died in the U.S. in 2010. That means about 209,000 died each month. The last time it was legal to update the SSDI in a timely fashion was 28 March 2014, and the next time will be 1 January 2018 (for deaths in 2014 only). That is a time span of 45 months. The estimate then is that 9.4 million more deaths will occur in the U.S. before a single one of them is placed in the SSDI that we genealogists access.

Photograph credit: A lone U.S. Army bugler plays Taps at the conclusion of the First Annual Remembrance Ceremony in Dedication to Fallen Military Medical Personnel at Arlington National Cemetery, March 11, 2009.(DoD photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Chad J. McNeeley/Released.)

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Barbara serves as the Federal Records Director. She is a Board-certified genealogist who works for the Massachusetts Society of the Colonial Dames of America as a Verifying Genealogist and for the Welles Family Association as a Genealogist. Her volunteer service includes a stint as President of MGC. She holds a master’s degree in the management of non-profits from the Florence Heller School at Brandeis University. You can read her own blog, The Demanding Genealogist, at


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