May 1, 2009 – For two years, Caroline Baumann lived with a simple predicament.
Without an Illinois state ID card she could not apply for general assistance from the state. No general assistance meant Baumann, 61, had no income, access to medical care or permanent housing.
Her ID had been taken from her bag while residing at the Pacific Garden Mission shelter.
Homeless advocates said without an ID, the homeless face hefty fines if ticketed, barriers to employment and public services.
The Heartland Alliance, working with Rep. Greg Harris (D-Chicago), introduced House Bill 897, which would waive the current $20 fee and allow service providers to vouch for a homeless person’s status.
However, opponents of the bill were concerned with the bill’s language and potential cases of identity theft.
Rep. Mike Bost (R-Carbondale) said a lack of rules and procedures outlined for the Secretary of State in the bill raised concerns of identity misuse, calling it “a security breach.” Bost said its passage was equivalent to “passing a blank check.”
“We have moved into a whole new era of security, not just in the State but in the U.S.,” said Bost.
Co-sponsor Rep. Eddie Washington (D-Waukegan) said concerns over identification theft were blocks to attempts to help an underclass. Washington acknowledged, “it wasn’t the perfect bill,” but opposition rather than suggestions to make it better were counterproductive.
“Look how ludicrous an argument that is,” said Washington. “We got ID theft up the wazoo all over America. And if it were preventable on one level it would be preventable on another.”
Gina Guillemette, director of policy and advocacy for the Heartland Alliance, said the list of service providers included in the bill’s language makes it clear as to how a homeless person could apply for a state ID.
“Our main concern is that having a state ID is a critical piece of information for people…to help people transition out of homelessness, to employment, to secure their living and in many instances, access services,” said Guillemette.
Henry Haupt, deputy press secretary at the Secretary of State’s Office, said from the bill’s passage to its July 1, 2010 effective date, would allow the state enough time to work with a “variety of agencies” on implementation procedures.
Also, Haupt said an online program called Social Security Online Verification (SSOLV) and newer IDs have been designed with a series of security features to reduce fraud and identity theft.
Illinois distributes approximately 650,000 state ID cards a year, equating to $14 million in annual revenue.
The bill passed 106 to 9 in the House on March 13 and is currently moving through the Senate’s State Government and Veterans Affairs Committee.
At Sarah’s Circle, case manager Mandee L. Russell said she probably writes one to two checks a week to assist those seeking an ID card. Sarah’s Circle provided $1,700 last year in assistance for ID cards. After losing “a lot” of grant funding this year, the fee waive “would save them [sic] a lot of money,” said Russell.
“I think it would add up over time….and make them [homeless persons] feel better about walking around,” said Russell.