Philadelphia City Council unanimously passed a bill Thursday that clears the way for the city to begin issuing municipal identification cards next year.
Anyone trying to get a job, housing, government services, or health care needs proof of identity, but many people — particularly low-income residents, immigrants, and youth — don't have it.
Cities including Newark, N.J.; Chicago; New York City; and San Francisco have distributed municipal identification cards, conceived as a way to help vulnerable populations.
The bill that passed Thursday, introduced in 2016 by Council members Maria Quiñones-Sánchez, Helen Gym, and Curtis Jones Jr., amends the city code to allow distribution of the cards.
"Photo IDs are an essential part of modern life, from opening a bank account to borrowing a library book to checking in at the emergency room," Quiñones-Sánchez said in a statement. "Municipal IDs will unlock doors so that all Philadelphians can fully participate in our city's vibrant economic and civic life."
Council passed the bill by a 15-0 vote. Philadelphia officials plan to begin issuing municipal IDs in January, according to Joanna Otero-Cruz, Philadelphia's deputy managing director of community services, who is leading the program.
According to the legislation, all city agencies and departments and any entity that receives city funds through contracts or grant or loan agreements would have to accept municipal IDs as proof of identity and residency. The bill also says the city will encourage acceptance of the card by public and private organizations such as libraries, museums, schools, health-care providers, museums, and banks. The city hopes eventually to add benefits such as museum discounts and library card capabilities to the ID — a perk used by other cities to encourage widespread use of the card and reduce the stigma of a separate type of ID.
Mayor Kenney said the IDs were a priority when he took office in 2016. Concerns about privacy slowed the ID program's progress last year.
Under the bill, the city will not keep originals or copies of identifying documents, and will keep confidential the information it needs to issue the cards. Immigrant advocates in Philadelphia and across the country have said they worry governments will use identifying information to deport immigrants.
Some opponents of municipal IDs say the cards give undocumented immigrants access to government services to which they are not entitled. Others question the need for creating a separate card instead of easing processes for obtaining state-issued IDs.
To apply for a card, Philadelphia residents would need to prove their identities with documents such as U.S. or foreign passports, driver's licenses, state IDs, permanent resident cards, visas, Pennsylvania school IDs, certified copies of birth certificates, or Social Security cards. At least one form of identification must include a photograph and date of birth. Residents 13 and younger can submit copies of their birth certificates or medical or school records.
Philadelphians can prove their residency with documents such as recent utility bills; letters from homeless shelters, health care centers, or social service agencies that receive city funding; pay stubs; bank account statements; property tax or mortgage payment receipts, and insurance bills. The bill gives the city discretion to decide whether to accept other forms of proof of residency and identity. Applicants would risk perjury if they give the city incorrect information.