With little apparent notice to affected communities, the Social Security Administration (SSA) has announced plans to consolidate two local offices into the high-security Jackson Federal Building located on Second Avenue, possibly as early as March of this year. The move could put Social Security benefits out of reach for many vulnerable populations, including those with physical and mental disabilities.
The Social Security offices in Belltown and the International District each serve about 150 people per day, and the SSA says consolidating the two will save money – but community leaders counter that doing so risks harming many people who rely on Social Security benefits.
“People with physical and mental disabilities will be most negatively impacted by this move,” says Alex Doolittle, Executive Director of Seattle Community Law Center. “The Jackson Federal Building is a high-security facility that requires visitors to pass through a security system operated by people in uniform, show current state or federal picture ID, and there is no interpreter assistance available. These requirements are a burden for people living with disabilities, particularly mental health impairments and those that do not speak English, and they present an impassable barrier to accessing public benefits and information about public benefits.”
During a meeting with some community members in December, SSA officials stated they are “locked into the Federal Building,” and are moving ahead with the relocation/consolidation. But community leaders, many of whom only recently learned of the move, are asking the SSA to slow down – and they question why more effort wasn’t made to solicit input from local communities.
“Many of us only learned about this decision late last year. It really blindsided us,” said Sharyne Shiu Thornton, Deputy Director, Inter*Im Community Development Association. “The Social Security Administration says it mailed 800 letters to local ‘community leaders’ – but many report never receiving such information, and there’s little evidence of any other outreach about this decision to community leaders or community groups, at least in the International District.”
Local leaders have organized a community forum on Friday, January 13 1:30-3:00 p.m., at the International District/Chinatown Community Center, 719 8th Avenue South.
SSA Regional Commissioner Stanley Friendship has been invited to attend. Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn will attend, as will representatives from the offices of Senator Patty Murray and Representative Jim McDermott.