Federal agencies must tap into a new Social Security database to weed out prisoners collecting government benefits that belong only to Americans "who work hard, play by the rules," President Clinton said Saturday.
In their response, Republicans also sought to capitalize on the political appeal of Social Security _ especially to women voters.
The database for which Clinton claimed credit gathers up-to-date information on criminals in more than 3,500 state, county and federal lockups, and now covers 99 percent of the prison population. By the end of 1997, the Social Security Administration had suspended benefit checks to more than 70,000 inmates, Clinton said in his weekly radio address.
His executive memorandum ordered other federal agencies to match their benefit rosters with Social Security's continually updated list of incarcerated criminals.
"We will ensure that those who have committed crimes against society will not have an opportunity to commit crimes against taxpayers as well," Clinton said.
In the GOP radio address, Rep. Jennifer Dunn, R-Wash., said Republicans will convene a national women's forum this week, in part to discuss Social Security's uncertain future because "women outlive their husbands 75 percent of the time, and they know how fragile their retirement security can be."
Clinton said that at a projected savings of "millions upon millions," the departments of labor, veterans affairs, justice, education and agriculture will make their own "comprehensive sweeps" for ineligible prisoners receiving veterans benefits, food stamps or other federal benefits.
Clinton called it a move to "restore America's faith in our national government" and said the crackdown on Social Security benefits alone will save an estimated $2.5-billion over five years.
"That's $2.5-billion that will go toward serving our hardworking families."
By law, prisoners are barred from receiving most federal benefits.
"It is our duty to use every power and every tool to eliminate that kind of fraud," Clinton said. "We owe it to the American people to ensure that their Social Security contributions and other tax dollars are benefiting only those who work hard, play by the rules and are by law eligible to receive them."