Stop Closing the Doors on the Community

From the International Examiner | By Michael Yee

Michael Yee

The turnaround in our local economy that we all wished for in 2011 didn’t occur. If you’re like me, you’re apprehensive about 2012. Cuts to federal, state and city government budgets seem to continually loom over us, affecting our lives one way or another. Politicians and elected officials point fingers at each other and at no meaningful solutions.

I am tired of the droning rhetoric around taxes and eliminating services. But as tired as I am about it all, I know this is when I have to be more diligent. This is when I need to find time to write more. This is when our community needs to be more diligent about community issues by being better informed, working hard and demanding that our voices be heard.

What’s on my International District radar for 2012? Issues that I believe impact our community disproportionately.

Social Security Administration

The Social Security Administration (SSA) plans to close neighborhood offices in the International District and Belltown this spring. A new SSA office would open on the 9th floor of the high-security Jackson Federal Building. The community has already raised strong objections about the barriers to service that would result from the closures.

I understand the needs for cuts at all levels of government. But I object to some of them, when they are made under the guise of efficiency and effectiveness. I’ll spare you my tirade on government waste and bureaucracy. What I will focus on will be preserving and providing equitable access to services. Closure of the ID SSA office will result in the most vulnerable populations suffering disproportionately. Prioritizing by the needs of the majority is not leadership or effective management.

I encourage you to be part of a public meeting about the ID SSA office, to be held on Friday, Jan. 13 at the Chinatown/International District Community Center, located at 719 8th Ave. S., in Seattle from 1:30 – 3 p.m.

Neighborhood Social Security offices abruptly slated for closure – community rallies for time to respond

The Jackson Federal Building in downtown Seattle

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.