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Washington State Considering Bill Giving Homeless ‘Free’ ID Cards

Homeless on the Street
FREDERIC J. BROWN/AFP/GETTY IMAGES
KATHERINE RODRIGUEZ

Lawmakers in Washington state are considering a bill that would give the homeless state-issued ID cards free of charge.

The proposed legislation, Senate Bill 5664, would task two state agencies— the Department of Commerce and the Department of Licensing— with creating a program that would give a form of state-issued identification to any homeless person in Washington state who does not already have an ID card at no cost to them.

“When you think about all the many, many instances that each one of us are required to show ID on a regular basis, I think it’s easy to understand what a barrier a lack of ID can be,” state Sen. Annette Cleveland (D-Vancouver), the primary sponsor of the bill, told the Seattle Times.

Although the cards would be issued at no cost to the homeless, it would cost the state several hundred thousand dollars just to get off the ground.

The program, if it passes the state legislature, would cost the state Commerce Department and the Department of Licensing an estimated $460,000 between 2019 and 2021 to operate.

But the bill’s supporters, citing data from the state’s Office of Financial Management, insist the operating costs of the program would decrease between 2021 and 2023— to $355,200.

Even with the promises of decreased costs, the bill’s supporters say the legislation is no guarantee that the homeless who receive the IDs will get off the streets.

“I can’t guarantee that everybody who gets an ID will get off the streets,” Rud Browne, a council member in Whatcom County, told the Times. “I can guarantee that 100 percent of people who do not have ID will never get off the streets.”

The state reported having the fifth-highest number of homeless people in the U.S. in 2018, the Times reported. On average, more than 22,000 individuals reported being homeless on one night in January 2018, according to government data.

Washington state would not be the first state or local government entity to issue these ID cards. In 2015, New York City launched the “IDNYC” program, which allowed the city to issue municipal ID cards to anyone claiming residency in the city— including illegal aliens and the homeless.

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