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April 30, 2012: Federal SSI. JIM RAYPHAND

Special to the Saipan Tribune
I enjoyed what is likely to be the shortest tenure of any federal officer ever to don the label of “a Fed” recently. After nearly two years of jumping through hoops (i.e., multiple layers of personal screening: skills/competency testing, drug-testing, medical/physical assessments, and background checks that to my surprise included a credit-history check), I found myself with right hand raised “swearing (and affirming)” to uphold the Constitution of the United States of America, etc., etc.-a proud moment to say the least. A week and a half later, my new (what was supposed to be a part-time) gig evolved into a full-time commitment in direct conflict with my day job and, to make a long story short, I had to make a painful choice between two very good jobs (apparently, you can’t have your cake and eat it too). Of course, there are fates worse than mine and though hindsight is 20/20, the choices we make are not always so clear except that, when two roads diverge, you can not travel both.

The experience (albeit brief) was eye-opening and humbling in the face of what is termed “SSI”-Sensitive Security Information-the stuff we think we know but don’t know that we don’t know what we think we know even when we know that we don’t know it. You know, the cryptic stuff which I am not at liberty to discuss-not to be confused with classified information, mind you, I’ve never been even a blip on any kind of privileged pecking order. But basically, there is much more than meets the eye with respect to ongoing efforts to protect our great nation and the terrorist attempts to harm it. I, for one, am grateful to all the good men and women who stand at the various frontlines.and, that’s all I have to say about that.

For advocates at the Northern Marianas Protection & Advocacy Systems, Inc. (NMPASI), “SSI” represents something entirely different-Supplemental Security Income, a welfare benefits program for individuals with disabilities from the Social Security Administration. Unfortunately, as I see it, this benefit epitomizes everything that is both good and bad in the general quest to improve the lives and standing of individuals with disabilities in society. On the one hand it’s good because it provides a life-saving income to numerous people who (through no fault of their own) can’t provide for themselves, but on the other, like all welfare programs, it fuels an ever-growing culture of dependence-a phenomenon which, in my opinion, poses as much a threat to the strength of our nation as any terrorist group. Thomas Jefferson had it right when he said, “Democracy will cease to exist when you take away from those who are willing to work and give it to those who would not” (Coincidentally, isn’t our democracy now a primary target in jihad?) It isn’t such a fine line between those who can’t do for themselves and those who won’t, though one can hardly blame the ones that don’t when they often stand to make as much, if not more, for doing nothing than they would working a full-time job. Of course, that too is a choice. Beyond that, this benefit and the people who receive it have been the subject of some egregious abuses and fraud including, but not limited to other people (often their own family) taking their money away from them.sad, but true.

As a passing thought, there is something innately wrong with a system that requires a person to be vetted so extensively (i.e., background checks, drug-testing, etc.) in order to earn an opportunity to work for a federal income, but places no such scrutiny for someone to receive federal money (and other benefits) for free. Whether we have a disability, are indigent or otherwise, shouldn’t we all be held to the same litmus test for a share of the federal pie?

For more on government benefits and/or other programs for individuals with disabilities, please call the NMPASI Office at (670) 235-7273/4 [voice] / 235-7275 [fax] / 235-7278 [tty] or contact us online via www.nmpasi.org.

Jim Rayphand is the executive director of the Northern Marianas Protection and Advocacy Systems Inc., more popularly known as NMPASI.