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Decision to close south side Social Security office draws criticism

Agency says office will close March 22
Posted at 6:08 PM, Feb 21, 2018
and last updated 2018-02-21 23:47:54-05

The decision to close the Social Security Office on Milwaukee's south side has been met with harsh criticism by city and state leaders.

The Social Security Administration says the office at 7th and Mitchell will close March 22. The office serves about 2,200 people a month, according to a spokesman with the agency.

The office is located in a diverse community that includes the Hispanic population as well as Somali, Hmong and Polish.

Rep. Gwen Moore as well as Mayor Tom Barrett and Alderman Jose Perez, who represents the district where the office is located held a news conference Wednesday to inform the community about the closure and ask that the administration find a better solution.

"We demand some respect from the Social Security Administration," said Moore.

Moore says she has sent multiple letters to the federal agency since learning of the closure last month.

The administration cited safety concerns with the building as well as crime issues in the nearby community as reasons for the closure.

In a letter sent to Moore's office last week, the administration said the building lacks secure parking, has no stairwell access for visitors and an elevator they can't always rely on. There were eight recorded incidents of the elevator breaking down in 2017 according to the agency, including multiple times when people got stuck inside.

The agency also cited violent crimes in and around the building that cause concern for their employee's safety.

Ald. Perez says once he learned of the decision to close, he contacted building inspectors and police.

"These concerns about safety in the surrounding area are not born out of facts," he said.

He had the Department of Neighborhood Services perform an inspection on the building. According to their report, inspectors only found four minor violations in the building, that included replacing an electrical outlet cover, servicing a fire extinguisher, replacing wallpaper and cleaning equipment in the elevator.

There are four other Social Security offices in the Milwaukee area, all within eight miles of the south side office.

Doug Nguyen, a spokesman with the administration said they are confident they can still provide quality service moving forward. He also said that 50 percent of the visitors to the south side office come from outside of that community and that more than half of benefit claims are filed online.

"It just seems devastating," said Jessica LaPointe, who represents the union that covers social security employees. She says for vulnerable members of the community, the other locations are still too far.

"These are disabled elderly people, these are people who have lived here their entire life," she said.

She also said employees did raise concerns about the safety of the building but hoped for simple fixes, not the office to close down.

Mayor Barrett has offered up alternative locations on the south side, including the former Forest Home library. Sen. Tammy Baldwin also wrote a letter to the social security administration, encouraging them to move offices instead of closing this one.

A spokesman with the agency says office locations are up to the General Services Administration and directed our questions there.

The Social Security Administration says they've been working with the GSA since 2015 to address the issues at the current building. The GSA handles government property and locations.

The administration also said the GSA conducted an "exhaustive search to find alternate space in this service area...but those efforts have proven unsuccessful."

LaPointe said the administration is supposed to hold a 30 day public comment period before closing any offices, per policy.

However, the agency spokesman responded to that saying, "there are times when we have to close an office for health and safety reasons and Social Security does not obtain formal public input."

The union says 65 field offices have closed since 2010. The most recent closure was an office on the south side of Chicago.