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Social Security Administration Shortchanging Beneficiaries

By Robert Shimabukuro, PSARA Board Member and Associate Editor 

Grandmothers, grandfathers, aunties, uncles, sons, daughters, grandchildren, families and communities are being shortchanged of their fair share of their Social Security benefits. That’s what I conclude when I look at a report of the effects of the con- solidation of Social Security Administration (SSA) field offices into the newly formed Seattle Metropolitan Office in the Jackson Federal Building (JFB) last year.

The report, by a coalition of concerned community and labor organizations, is just a bunch of numbers with analysis, but they tell a story of barriers that discourage people from services to which they are entitled. Yes, entitled to, because they or someone in their family paid for it. Consolidation happened because the government had to downsize and save money. Serve less people, save money too. Seems like a win-win situation.

Well, when that happens you get this: (a) The number of visitations to the newly consolidated Seattle Metropolitan Social Security office dropped dramatically by 24% over all. There were 1373 average weekly visitations at the International District and Belltown SSA field offices before the move. After the move to the Metropolitan Seattle office in the JFB, there were 1038 average weekly visitations, or 335 less each week, a 24% decrease. Projected over a year, that’s 17,420 less visits per year.

17,420 less visits a year. I wonder where the money saved went?

You also get this: (b) 97 average Limited English Speakers (LES) weekly visits at the two SSA field offices before consolidation which dropped to 39 average weekly visits at SSA at JFB, or 58 less a week (a 60% drop).

A 60% drop in LES weekly visits, 58 visits less a week. I wonder what happened to the people who stopped going to a SSA office? Was the downtown office unable to accommodate their needs? Do clients feel too uncomfortable at the downtown office to ask for what they need? Do clients no longer need as many services from SSA?

Given these numbers the SSA offered the possible explanation that more people were using phone and internet services. Highly unlikely, especially for people who have language difficulties. (c) Demographic information on the area: of the 35,528 households in the area, 7,093 households had incomes less than $15,000; 2189 households had no phone. 37.2% are Asian/Pacific Islander, 29.6% are African American, 1.5% are Native American. 37% are from cultures in which English may not be their first language.

In an April 2013 survey, the coalition collected opinions on the consolidation from 144 clients of Asian Counseling & Referral Service, Chinese Information Service Center, and Interim Community Development Association: only 2 respondents indicated that they spoke English; of the 94 respondents who wrote suggestions for improving SSA services.

Of the 110 who responded to computer usage, 108 reported that they do not use the computer to access services from SSA. Only 2 indicated that they do.

Almost all respondents had been to the ID SSA office before it was closed (128 out of 144), almost 89%; only 66 respondents (46%) have been to SSA in JFB.

In additional suggestions/comments, 72 asked for better translation services (combination of “translation services/ interpreters available” with “interpreter/ translation in person”), 33 for more ef- ficiency (more staff, shorter wait time, increased office hours, clearer answers to questions), 30 for a more friendly envi- ronment (combination of “more friendly environment” with “no security check”).

So we know what’s important to this population. They want to understand what’s going on, and they want a place where they can feel comfortable. JFB does neither.

Many of us know Jackson Federal Building. Intimidating. Even more so when there’s some demonstration going on there. It’s on a hill (a killer for grandma and granddad, and me too). No more free bus transportation to and from. Only expensive parking available.

And as the report says, “it’s a maximum security building, with armed guards, metal detector screening, requirements to remove outer clothing, and requests for identification, all of which can be deterrents to visits.”

I’ll say. Almost all of my siblings would or could not go there. Unless they absolutely had to. Even then, I don’t think they would. They would ask me to go for them. I would too, for the older ones especially. We shouldn’t let Social Security treat them this way.

As I said before, grandmothers, grandfathers, aunties, uncles, sons, daughters…and brothers and sisters, are being shortchanged. Let’s put a stop to this.

(PSARA is a member of the “coalition of concerned community and labor organizations” mentioned above, working to relocate the Seattle Metroplitan Office to a more convenient central Seattle location.)

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