Yesterday, DC Council’s Committee on the Judiciary and Committee on Transportation and the Environment held a joint hearing on Bill B21-0736, “Improving Access to Identity Documents Amendment Act of 2016.” The Bill was introduced by Councilmembers Grosso and Alexander in an effort to tackle one of the many obstacles that low-income DC residents face when trying to obtain necessary government IDs. If enacted, the bill would waive fees associated with obtaining vital records, IDs, and driver’s licenses for DC residents whose income falls under 200% of the federal poverty guidelines.
Anyone who has ever misplaced his or her ID knows what a headache it is to go without one. For this reason, most of us scramble to replace our lost government IDs as quickly as possible, and though we may face some mild annoyances in dealing with government agencies, we’re able to do so fairly easily. But not all of us are so lucky. At the Legal Clinic, we see numerous cases at intake involving clients who face extraordinary barriers when trying to replace IDs, licenses, birth certificates, and other important government documents that they’ve lost, often as a result of being homeless and not having a safe place to store their belongings. Not being able to afford the fees associated with applying for these IDs is a key barrier, and in the past several years, the number of social service agencies that cover these fees for those who can’t afford them has decreased significantly. It seems like a no-brainer, but when someone can’t obtain a government ID, they are also prevented from accessing important resources to get them back to stability, like benefits, educational opportunities, healthcare, jobs, and housing. To add to the challenges, it’s extremely difficult to gain entrance to DC government buildings, including the Wilson Building, without identification. Waiving fees for residents who can’t afford them is one important step in removing these barriers.
We commend Councilmembers Grosso and Alexander for moving this bill forward and hope the Council will vote this important bill into law and dedicate the money to fund it.