Acting SSA Commissioner Gets Push-Back on Office Closures, Needs More
By Steve Kofahl, President of AFGE Local 3937 and a member of PSARA’s Executive Board
A couple of years ago, Carolyn Colvin, Acting Social Security Administration Commissioner, told AFGE that the Agency was getting very little “push-back” when SSA decided to close field offices. Some of us took that as a challenge, and our efforts are finally beginning to bear fruit. Nowhere have community and elected leaders challenged SSA’s office closures as strongly as we have in Seattle.
Twenty-one months ago, two accessible community offices were closed and consolidated into the Jackson Federal Building, where significant access barriers disadvantage the disabled, the poor, and those with limited English language proficiency. We had fought the decision for one year prior to the closures, and we are still fighting, now pressing SSA to do what’s right and re-establish a branch office or contact station that can properly serve all residents of South and Central Seattle. PSARA, Social Security Works Washington, and an impressive coalition of International District community leaders have led the charge.
On January 14 of this year, we received the following message from Senator Patty Murray’s State Director, Brian Kristjansson:
“Senator Murray worked to include report language addressing Social Security Administration office consolidations and closures in the omnibus appropriations bill that will be voted on this week in the House and Senate. The Appropriations Committee staff originally included some basic language requiring a study on the office closure process, but we worked to beef up the language to address some of the social justice issues we have been discussing. As we continue the conversation about the Seattle Social Security office, I want you to know the concerns you have expressed to the delegation are being heard – and are influencing national policy going forward.”
The report language reads:
“Field Office Closings. – Concerns remain that in recent years SSA has lacked comprehensive, transparent policies regarding field office closings, including data on specific populations impacted by office closures and plans to mitigate the effects of closures. The Commissioner is directed to submit a report to the House and Senare Appropriations Committees within 90 days of enactment of this act on its policies and procedures for closing and consolidating field offices, including any policies and procedures related to assessing the community impacts of closing or consolidating offices, and the metrics used to calculate short- and long-term cost savings. In addition, the Commissioner is directed to provide a readily available public notice of proposed field office closures to ensure that impacted communities are aware of proposed changes and allow an opportunity for public input on the proposed changes and possible mitigation to ensure continued access to SSA services.”
Unfortunately, SSA has arrogantly continued, unabated and without meeting these Congressional expectations, to announce additional office closures. Kingston and Amherst in New York, and Barstow and Redlands in California, are the latest communities threatened with field office closures. Senator Chuck Schumer objected to the Kingston announcement in a press conference, and an angry Congressman Brian Higgins did the same on behalf of his Amherst constituents. The Barstow City Council passed a resolution opposing the closure of their office. Rep. Higgins took it a step further by introducing a bill on February 5 that would codify and strengthen the requirements of the report language so that SSA would have no choice but to satisfy the desires of Congress. The Higgins Bill is HR 3997. Please ask your representative in the House of Representatives to sign on as a co-sponsor, and urge your Senators to introduce companion legislation.