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Not All Disabled Exempt from Measure H

Maria Zanetti was a civilian crane operator at Naval Air Station Alameda for 25 years. She loaded cargo on military ships until an accumulation of back injuries from her work duties put her out of work and on Supplementary Security Income (SSI). She has applied for an exemption to Measure H and has been denied.

Measure H, a parcel tax for Alameda schools, was passed by Alameda voters on June 3rd, 2008 and provides exemptions for senior citizens and “for persons receiving Supplemental Security Income for a disability, regardless of age.” Maria was on SSI for five years, until 1999, after which the Social Security Administration moved her to Social Security Disability Insurance. Basically, SSI is for disabled persons who never contributed enough to Social Security to earn benefits. The Social Security Administration’s website says that “Supplemental Security Income (SSI) is a Federal income supplement program funded by general tax revenues (not Social Security taxes): It is designed to help aged, blind and disabled people, who have little or no income.” The website further explains that “Social Security Disability Insurance pays benefits to you and certain members of your family if you are ‘insured,’ meaning that you worked long enough and paid Social Security taxes.”

The website contrasts SSI with social security disability as follows: “SSI Disability? What is it, exactly? Is it the same as social security disability? Well, in most ways, it is. SSI falls under title 16 of the social security act and it stands for supplemental security income…Are SSI disability cases decided any differently from social security disability cases? No, in this way, SSI is absolutely no different from SSD, or social security disability. “

Shortly after the Measure H election results were certified, Maria went to the AUSD office to pick up an exemption application form. She then went to the Oakland Social Security Administration office to get a letter verifying that she is receiving benefits. In a letter dated July 10, 2008, the Social Security Administration wrote a letter regarding Maria that stated “THE ABOVE PERSON IS RECEIVING DISABILITY BENEFITS BASED ON WHAT SHE WORKED AND PAID INTO SOCIAL SECURITY.” AUSD administrators told her it wasn’t enough. Maria went back and forth with the AUSD administration office and the Social Security Administration office in person and by telephone, and ended up eventually speaking to AUSD then-CFO Luz Cazares. According to Maria, Luz explained that the exemption to the parcel tax is strictly for disabled persons receiving Supplementary Security Income (SSI), and that Maria was not exempt because she was receiving social security disability benefits, not SSI. And, Maria says, in a telephone call, Luz went on to say there were about fifteen other Alameda residents in the same situation. Maria also contacted Sixteenth District Assemblymember Sandre Swanson for help. On July 14, 2008, Mr. Swanson’s office sent a letter to Luz Cazares explaining that “Ms. Zanetti is permanently disabled and was receiving SSI until 1999 when her case was transferred to Social Security Benefits after a lengthy medical review concerning her back.” and asking Ms. Cazares “to reconsider her [Maria’s] Measure H exemption application.”

Pursuant to their telephone conversations, and subsequent to the letter from Assemblymember Swanson’s office, in a letter dated July 28, 2008 addressed to Maria Zanetti, Luz Cazares wrote “The exemption offered for Measure H parcel tax is based on California Government Code Section 50079 which states school districts may impose parcel taxes: that provide for an exemption from those taxes for taxpayers 65 years of age or older or for persons receiving Supplemental Security Income for a disability, regardless of age. Please note, Supplemental Security Income (SSI) for disability is not the same as Social Security Disability Insurance.

“But,” Maria says “In the newspaper, they wrote that the exemption was for disabled people. Even the flyers handed out promoting Measure H says that seniors and the disabled qualify for the exemption.”  Indeed, in a Friday May 30, 2008 article in the Alameda Sun, a block at the bottom of the article states:

Measure H

The tax rate would be $120 per individual parcel with a $0.15 per square foot assessment on commercial and industrial parcels, and includes exemptions for seniors and disabled homeowners. 

Two mailers from Keep Alameda Schools Excellent, the Political Action Committee that pushed for passage of Measure H have a graphic block entitled “Guaranteed for 4 Years” that states “Seniors and the disabled qualify for exemption after Measure H passes.” (The mailers are “Measure H Makes Sense for Alameda” and “Danger! Underfunding Ahead! Vote Yes on H”)


Action Alameda has been contacted by other residents who say that they received phone calls from KASE in which the callers said that “people 65 or over or the disabled are exempt, so it was okay to vote yes, because it would not affect them.” One voter, who asked not to be named, told us “They clearly were duping people into voting yes by saying that if you’re disabled, you’re not going to pay this tax.”

Maria Zanetti also feels like she was tricked into supporting the parcel tax by the mis-leading campaign literature. She voted in favor of Measure H because she believed it was “for a good cause, but I should have said no.” She said that if the current lawsuits against the school district over Measure H force another vote on the parcel tax, she would vote against it.

We contacted Assemblymember Sandre Swanson’s office to see if, based on his exchange with Maria Zanetti, Mr. Swanson was considering any potential legislation to broaden the exemption for disabled people, not just those on SSI. After some investigation, spokesperson Doug MacLean called us back with a statement “At this point, Mr. Swanson is focused on the budget crisis. Many of his legislative efforts originate through the local constituent office, and this is one idea for next year’s legislative package. We’d be happy to field calls from constituents with concerns about this issue.”

The phone number for Mr. Swanson’s local office is 510-286-1670, and the fax number is 510-286-1888.

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