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Accessing Seattle’s Social Security Office

By Steve Kofahl, President of AFGE Local 3937, representing SSA workers and a member of PSARA’s Executive Board

On October 30, PSARA learned that a memo had been sent to building tenants at the Jackson Federal Building stating: “The Department of Homeland Security has established the Real ID Act. Effective January 19, 2015, the Washington State Driver License will no longer be an acceptable form of identification for entrance to government buildings. The Jackson Federal Building and the Federal Office Building, which are level 4 buildings, will require visitors to show a passport or a Washington State Enhanced Driver License to enter the buildings.”

The cost for a passport ($135) or enhanced drivers license ($107) is beyond the means of many of those who need service, and the time taken to secure such ID could create additional hardships.

American Federation of Government Employees, Local 3937, representing Social Security Employees at the JFB, immediately placed this urgent issue on the agenda for a quarterly AFGE/SSA labor-management meeting scheduled for November 6. SSA Regional officials initially assured us that, based on their discussions with the JFB Building Security Committee, the Federal Protective Service (FPS), and SSA Headquarters officials, there would be no change in ID requirements or accessibility.

We were told there were limitations to the new rules that apply to SSA at the JFB and that other documents would be accepted because they have been accepted in the past, and because access for Social Security Administration services is an exception to those rules.

The SSA Administrators also claimed that they were unaware that the Real ID Act of 2005 requirements could create service barriers when they signed the Occupancy Agreement with the General Services Administration. Since the Passport Agency vacated the JFB space now occupied by SSA, we asked whether the Passport Agency left the building because of Real ID Act access concerns, and SSA said that they had never heard that was the reason.

We had done our research before the meeting, finding “REAL ID Enforcement in Brief” at http://www.dhs.gov/real-id-enforcement-brief. The “Limitations” section states that “The Act does not require individuals to present identification where it is not currently required to access a Federal facility (such as to enter the public areas of the Smithsonian) nor does it prohibit an agency from accepting other forms of identity documents other than documents from non-compliant states (such as a U.S. passport or passport card).” This section also states that “For example, the Act does not apply to voting, registering to vote, or for applying for or receiving Federal benefits.”

Since Washington is a non-compliant state, we questioned whether the first limitation applies. And, because visitors come to SSA for many other services in addition to filing for and receiving benefits, we questioned whether the second limitation applied. By the end of the discussion, SSA Regional officials stopped using the term “assurance”, and instead used “expectation.” We asked for something in writing, and were told that it would be supplied to our AFGE National Council President.

That written response stated that SSA “anticipates” no changes based on discussions with FPS and the broad interpretation of the exceptions by FPS, and that the Agency will continue to work with FPS on the matter.

We are uncertain whether additional access problems will arise in January, or some time after that date. With our concerned elected representatives and community partners, we will continue to press for restoration of accessible, equitable service for everyone who seeks SSA services, and assurance that things will not get worse next year.

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