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Kansas City may issue its own IDs to help people access services

Luke X. Martin
KCUR 89.3
Kansas City officials are exploring a municipal ID program for residents who lack legal identification.

The City Council passed a resolution directing the city manager to report on what such a program would look like. Officials say a city ID would help people who don’t have valid identification access city services.

Kansas City is beginning to explore a municipal ID program that officials hope will expand access to city services.

Last week, the City Council passed a resolution directing City Manager Brian Platt to look into creating a municipal ID program. The City Manager's office has 90 days to report back to council on what such a program would look like and how much it may cost.

Municipal ID programs have grown in popularity in the past decade. These programs are meant to benefit communities who have a hard time receiving services without a government ID — such as undocumented people, unhoused residents, people who are formerly incarcerated, elderly people and young people in the foster care system. Kansas City officials have not specified exactly who they hope will benefit from a municipal ID program.

Kansas City residents need a form of ID for services like solid waste pickup, receiving water services, getting a library card or using community centers.

“There are many services today and many potential services in the future where we could see a program like this having utility,” said Ann Jordan, director of policy in the mayor's office.

But a municipal ID would still not carry the same benefits as a state-issued ID, like a driver’s license. Jordan said a municipal ID could be more flexible than the requirements needed to receive a state ID.

“For instance, if we had a partnership with the library, so that library cards would automatically be included as your municipal ID card,” Jordan said, “it would also be easier for some folks who may already be coming to City Hall or other city locations to access things.”

Mayor Quinton Lucas, who sponsored the resolution, said it’s difficult for the city to work with state agencies to administer state IDs. He likened a municipal ID program to a university or college ID.

“Your ID card that gets you both into your dorm room, pays for your food, gets you your health benefits,” Lucas said during a committee meeting last week. “And it works for identification as relevant to the institution. You're seeing more cities that are doing that step.”

Barriers to IDs

Living without valid identification presents a host of obstacles: it can be difficult, sometimes nearly impossible, to secure housing, get a job, apply for government benefits or open a bank account.

Jodi Mathews is the director of marketing and development at Reconciliation Services, a local nonprofit that serves unhoused residents and helps people get an ID if they don’t have one.

Mathews said getting an ID opens the door to stabilizing resources.

“It is like the first step to all of the other steps that are gonna help them be healthy and successful as they move through their journey,” Mathews said. “So for us, it is like a life-saving act to help people get the identification that they need.”

Looking at the city’s interest in a municipal ID program, Mathews said she wants to know what problems such a program would solve — adding that a municipal ID program should not create more barriers. She said the city could look into partnering with organizations like Reconciliation Services to provide people with IDs.

“Could we streamline resources and give people access to an ID that opens more doors than just going to the library or community center?” Mathews said.

Municipal IDs in other cities

Dozens of cities across the U.S. have established a municipal ID program, including San Francisco, Los Angeles, Chicago and New York City.

Chicago’s CityKey program was established in 2017 and provides valid, government-issued IDs to those who apply. The program was originally designed to reduce barriers for people who have difficulty obtaining a government ID. The ID can also be used as a library card, transit card and benefits card for prescription drugs and cultural institutions.

The Unified Government of Wyandotte County passed its “Safe and Welcoming Wyandotte Act” last February, which provides municipal IDs to people without legal identification. The program is intended to ensure communities of color and the county’s immigrant community could obtain identification and live without fear of the police asking about their immigration status. The ordinance also prohibited local police from cooperating with or reporting to Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

But parts of the Safe and Welcoming program were struck down last April when Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly signed a bill banning sanctuary cities. The bill nullifies parts of the Wyandotte County ordinance that prohibits cooperation between local law enforcement and ICE. Residents of Kansas City, Kansas, can still obtain a community ID.

City Manager Platt is expected to report back to the Kansas City Council on a potential municipal ID program in late June.

“An ID has a lot of power to give people a sense of place and belonging,” Mathews with Reconciliation Services said. “And not being able to prove who you are is a very demoralizing place to be.”

Corrected: March 27, 2023 at 12:28 PM CDT
A previous version of this story misstated Anne Jordan's title. She is the director of policy in the Kansas City mayor's office.
As KCUR’s Missouri politics and government reporter, it’s my job to show how government touches every aspect of our lives. I break down political jargon so people can easily understand policies and how it affects them. My work is people-forward and centered on civic engagement and democracy. I hold political leaders and public officials accountable for the decisions they make and their impact on our communities. Follow me on Twitter @celisa_mia or email me at celisa@kcur.org.
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