Barriers to Obtaining Identifying Documents: Personal Wealth (Post 1 of 4)
In spring 2015, Kathleen Stephan, Community Resource and Quality Assurance Coordinator, began looking into why so many Bread for the City clients were suddenly struggling to obtain an ID. This blog series explores how the system disadvantages people of color living in poverty, and proposes possible improvements to policies that are currently preventing many DC residents from obtaining identification documents.
Privilege makes it is easier to build an officially recognized ID paper trail. I’m still me and you’re still you without bank statements, pay statements, and a current lease, but the system wasn’t built to recognize someone without them.
DC agencies require an applicant to prove who they are before receiving a birth certificate, ID, or Social Security Card. Across agencies the standard of proof can more easily be met by those with personal wealth than by those without.
In practice, the policies create higher barriers for black applicants than for whites. In 2013, wealth for white households was thirteen times the median wealth for black households across the country. Half of the accepted proofs at DC Vital Records are indicators of private wealth/income: federal tax forms, car registration, photo ID from a school or job, or a utility bill.
That list of proofs omits several non-wealth based forms of documentation that many people have, such as school registration/records, medical records, or proof of public benefits. The DC DMV accepted proofs of DC residency are similarly biased: statements of accounts with financial institutions, utility and home services companies, financial loans, property taxes or insurance, a deed, or a mortgage/settlement.
The ID system is also riddled with fees for services. A DC birth certificate, required by the DMV to apply for an ID, costs $23 and there is no fee reduction or waiver program. The DC DMV charges $20 for a DC ID and $47 for a DC Driver’s License. Only the elderly, citizens returning home from incarceration and residents experiencing homelessness may request that the $20 ID fee be waived. There is no waiver system for the $47 driver’s license fee. There are a few local groups that provide financial assistance but the demand greatly exceeds their resources.