BEYOND THE VOTE: Why you should care about access to IDs

On Nov. 8th, 2016, Missouri joined 17 other states that have put legal restrictions on voting by adding a constitutional amendment requiring government issued photo IDs, in order to vote.

Voting is a critical right for all citizens and legal and reasonable access to voting should be a priority. However, there remains a gap between the law and reality, between the intent and actualization. An ID offers access to a deep well of possibilities for self-sufficiency and dignity and we should care about everyone having access to that. The need for an ID goes beyond being able to vote. It is important for our survival!

Did you know that without an ID you can’t get food assistance, apply for a job or housing, secure healthcare, enroll your kids in school, visit a sick child in the hospital, or even get a library card? Without an ID people are left vulnerable, unable to prove who they are, and are cut-off from privileges, services, and even rights.

In our daily work at 31st and Troost, we have seen first hand the hardship imposed on the poor, the handicapped, and the elderly in trying to obtain an ID. Since our inception in 2005, we have made it a priority to help our clients secure IDs and birth certificates. RS is now one of the largest providers of ID assistance in KC. We know that with an ID, people are able to take those first steps towards self-sufficiency.

A friend told me recently that his elderly mother was facing serious challenges getting access to her elder care and housing. It had been years since his mother needed a driver’s license and no one in the family could find her birth certificate. It took two months and the tenacious advocacy of her adult children to navigate the complex bureaucracy of interstate clerical offices and hospital record archives before she received her birth certificate. Only then was his mother able to obtain a photo ID and the services she so desperately needed.

How does one access and verify their own history and identity if they are born out of state or legally immigrated from a war torn country but don’t understand the language and process? Maybe they don’t know their birth parents, or were raised in foster care and moved excessively. Maybe they lost everything because of fleeing abuse or due to theft, and may not even have an address to receive an ID or birth certificate in the mail. Having a caring and knowledgeable advocate is essential during the process of securing an ID and that is why RS is here.

Last week a man came to RS who desperately wanted to work but didn’t have the ID required to complete a job application. He was referred to RS for help obtaining his ID and stayed for a hot, nutritious meal and to use our RS Internet Café. He had been living out of his car, trying to get his life back on track but when his car was stolen, so was nearly everything he owned, including his ID. He had so much he wanted to be, but without his ID he was trapped.

This year RS launched the “I’D BE Campaign” and has helped over 800 people secure their ID and take their first steps towards self-sufficiency. In 2017, we want to help even more people get their ID and start living a life of stability and dignity. With an ID they have the opportunity to be housed, employed, educated, healthy, and involved. Through the generous support of donors, RS staff is able to evaluate individual needs, work together with clients to navigate the complicated application process, secure additional needed documentation, and provide a voucher to pay for the IDs.

It costs about $25 to pay for an ID. For many of our clients, the cost and the lack of understanding of the process puts that ID just out of their reach. It may only cost $25 for the ID but the support and services RS offers along the way are also vital.

At times our country has revealed itself to be deeply divided over pressing issues such as immigration, economic policy, education, health care, public benefits, and ease of voting. Perhaps where we will find common ground is in working together to ensure that all of our neighbors, especially the poor, can secure the ID they need to access privileges, services, and rights without complication or undue burden. It might be just the right place to start.

Join with us as we continue to advocate for our most vulnerable neighbors. Become a monthly sponsor of the I’D BE Campaign today.


Article by Fr. Justin Mathews, Executive Director of Reconciliation Services.