Legislation before the DC Council to help low-income residents to get ID documents for free would be especially helpful to the thousands of DC residents involved with the criminal justice system, most of whom are African American and low-income. Having an ID is critical to helping these residents get back on their feet. Access to free IDs would eliminate a barrier that prevents many from taking the first steps. The legislation should be approved and funded in DC’s next budget.
The District provides DMV-issued photo ID cards free-of-charge to some groups of underserved DC residents, namely homeless residents and certain returning citizens recently released from jail or prison. The FY2017 budget also added a new fee waiver program so that homeless residents can obtain DC birth certificates at no cost.
While these efforts help some of the District’s most needy residents, there are still gaps. Currently DC provides a free temporary six-month ID to returning citizens released from jail or prison within the last 6 months. However, most of the people seeking a temporary ID are denied because they are not recently returning residents, but instead are on probation – whether they’ve been incarcerated before or not – or are people with prior felony convictions. These non-reentry individuals often face the same extreme barriers to housing, employment and mental health services that recently returning citizens do, but are not currently eligible for no-cost photo ID programs.
Even returning citizens who qualify for the temporary ID card can use it for only six months. After that, they need to supply documents such as birth certificates, social security card and proof of DC residency. And they are required to pay for an ID like everyone else, even though most are still unemployed at that point and often unable to afford transportation to the DMV, let alone pay $47 for an ID.
The majority of justice-involved DC residents represent the groups least likely to have valid photo ID or a birth certificate: African Americans and other people of color and people living in poverty. Even those who previously had a valid form of ID often lose it because of incarceration or other reasons specific to criminal justice populations. In other words, they are among the residents most in need of help to get an ID.
The Improving Access to Identity Documents Act would allow all residents with incomes below 200 percent of the federal poverty line – or about $40,000 for a family of three – to get DC birth certificates, driver’s licenses, or non-driver’s ID cards free of charge. We hope that the Improving Access to Identity Documents Act gets approved and funded soon, so that DC residents involved with the criminal justice system and others can start getting the IDs they need to get through daily life.
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