Archive for March, 2013

An Important Moment for Social Security

Sunday, March 3rd, 2013

By Steve Kofahl, president of AFGE Local 3937 and a memebr of PSARA’s Executive Board 

The 6-year term of Bush-appointed Social Security Administration(SSA) Commissioner Michael Astrue finally ended on January 19. He tendered his resignation to the White House on February 8, and Carolyn Colvin was installed 5 days later as Acting Commissioner.

As Principle Deputy Commissioner, Ms. Colvin was next in the line of succession. The President has not yet nominated her, or anyone else, to serve a new 6-year term as Commissioner of Social Security. The Commissioner, Principle Deputy Commissioner, and SSA Inspector General are all subject to Senate confirmation.

It took the Senate two years to confirm Ms. Colvin after Mr. Obama nominated her as Principle Deputy, so it’s anybody’s guess how long it will take for a new Commissioner and Deputy Commissioner to be nominated and confirmed. In the absence of confirmed nominees, the President can name individuals to serve as Acting Commissioner and Principle Deputy.

At least 6 names have been mentioned, but Ms. Colvin and Social Security Works Co- Chair Nancy Altman appear to be the front-runners. Ms. Altman has the support of the AFL-CIO, the Leadership Council of Aging Organizations, and other groups and coalitions that advocate on behalf of the clients served by SSA.

Nancy Altman was the keynote speaker at the Everett Social Security Works Washington Forum, and also at this year’s gathering of American Federation of Government Employee(AFGE) Social Security Administration activists from throughout the country. We were preparing for Capitol Hill visits to inform lawmakers about how staffing cuts and bad management decisions are dismantling service.

Ms. Altman expressed her strong support for community-based service, and also listened and learned from Social Security Administration employees. There is no doubt that she would make a wonderful Commissioner. I asked her how AFGE could form strong coalitions with community organizations to protect and improve Social Security, and she said that we should follow the model created by Social Security Works Washington.

The great unknown is whether Ms. Colvin would restore service; or would continue down the Astrue path of office closings, reduced public hours, and Internet self-disservice. She has had a good working relationship with AFGE in the past, but that is not enough in itself.

PSARA, our labor and community allies and activists who work for the Social Security Administration are determined to see the Agency’s service and management problems fixed. Social Security Administration employees will only find satisfaction in our work when the Social Security Administration can provide high-quality, timely, equitable service to workers and their families, and deliver it through high quality personal face-to-face service when such service is desired.

Going to senior lobby day 2013

Sunday, March 3rd, 2013

By Sally Davis, PSARA memebr & featured in the video “Just Scrap the Cap – We’re Movin’ In” 

PSARA joins many senior advocacy organizations in Olympia to learn, share information, and meet with their legislators.

For me, it started with getting up before sunrise, dressing for blustery weather, taking a short walk to the carpool meeting spot, (stopping on the way for the essential cup of coffee). Then, getting on the road to Olympia, we reviewed our appointment schedule, our “talking points” and our PSARA legislative agenda, which PSARA members had approved at our fall 2012 Legislative Conference. Since that conference, I know members of the PSARA Governmental Relations committee worked many hours to make the logistical arrangements to get PSARA members to Olympia. They arranged a charter bus, set up car pools and planned details of legislator appointments.

The United Churches building near the Capitol campus was overflowing with senior advocates from all over the state. I spoke with some people who were attending for the first time, and many who had come for years. It was busy and at first seemed chaotic. I appreciated the hosts from the Senior Lobby who were helpful and organized, providing comprehensive packets of information for us, along with directions to make the day go smoothly.

Before our legislator visits, speakers included our new governor, the attorney general, the leaders of DSHS, the Area Agencies on Aging and other organizations involved in advocacy and service to seniors. So many speakers in a short time- it was too much to take in all at once. Fortunately there were plenty of handouts and reports to refer to later.

Over hearty box lunches the PSARA group met to hear from our lobbyist, and review instructions and directions to the legislator’s offices. We shared umbrellas for the short chilly dash over to the Capitol campus. I tried to think of it as an adventure in citizenship rather than an inconvenience. A highlight of the day was watching our own Robby Stern being greeted again and again by lobbyists, legislators, and staff as we walked through the halls of the Legislative building. Apparently it’s one of those places “where everybody knows his name”.

Another highlight for me was listening to our legislators explain the various behind-the-scenes strategies that go into getting a bill passed. I am glad that my own district legislators are already supportive of most of PSARA’s priorities.

We can write to our legislators, phone or email them, but it’s a different experience to visit them in person and more powerful when many groups join together. I know it’s sometimes inconvenient to take time to visit our elected representatives, but I know we do have to go beyond voting. We have to “show up and speak up” for the issues important to us.

Washington Voting Rights Act Will Ensure Fair Representation and Accountable Local Government

Sunday, March 3rd, 2013

By Rich Stolz, Executive Director of OneAmerica and a PSARA member 

A key theme that has emerged since the 2012 elections is the growing power of Latino, Asian and Pacific Islander, and immigrant voters. In Washington State, minority populations represent the fastest growing demographics. In fact, the growth in communities of color helped the state gain a tenth congressional district in the latest round of redistricting, amplifying the voice of all state residents in Congress. In many local governing bodies across the state, however, there is a dearth of minority representation.

When voters go to the polls, they want to know that they have an equal opportunity to elect the candidate of their choice, regardless of skin color, and have their vote count. The Washington Voting Rights Act (WVRA), HB1413/SB5473, will be an effective tool to ensure fair representation and accountability in local elections – the overriding values of any healthy democracy.

The WVRA looks specifically at polarized voting– where there is a difference in the choice of candidates preferred by voters in a protected class and those preferred by the rest of the electorate—when it denies certain communities an equal opportunity to influence elections. The most common problem with polarized voting is when it is combined with an at-large election system. This allows slim majorities to dominate elections, resulting in significant blocs of voters never having the opportunity to elect leaders who represent their communities.

Here is an example of how it might play out at the local level: imagine that a city elects 10 council members at-large. If 60 percent of its voters continually prefer candidates that oppose funding for social services, then only candidates who run opposed to funding for social services will win and occupy all 10 council seats. So, while 40 percent of voters prefer candidates that support social services, their position will have no representation on the council.

Under the WVRA, that city would be empowered to change to a district-based election system under which the 40 percent minority voting bloc could elect at least some representatives to the council to fight for social service funding and government becomes more accountable.

Upon passage of the WVRA, local jurisdictions would have more flexibility to move from at-large to district-based elections, since there are currently some restrictions on how election systems operate. If a challenge were brought under the WVRA, local jurisdictions would have 45 days to review evidence of polarized voting that denies voters an equal opportunity to influence elections. If convinced, jurisdictions could choose to voluntarily adopt acceptable election systems and avoid litigation. If a jurisdiction chose not to voluntarily conform to the WVRA, litigation would ensue and the courts would determine whether changes to the election system were necessary.

The federal Voting Rights Act has been an important tool in defense of voting rights for years, but it has come under attack and may be struck down altogether. The WVRA is necessary to ensure that Washington State continues to protect fair representation for all communities.

PSARA Forms New Committee on the Threat to the Environment

Sunday, March 3rd, 2013

While continuing the economic and social justice work we already do, PSARA will take an active role in challenging the causes of global climate change. We have formed a standing committee to work on the growing threat to our future posed by global climate change, chaired by Executive Board members Tom Lux and Kristen Beifus.

Our efforts will include working with allies to support concrete programs whose goal is to create good family wage jobs that are consistent with the need to confront the challenges of climate change.

The first meeting of the PSARA Committee on the Environment will be 10a.m. – 11:30a.m., Thursday, March 14, Seattle Labor Temple, 2800 First AV, Room 226, Seattle. All interested members of PSARA are welcome.