Compassion Reporting on poverty fighting and criminal justice

Positive ID

Compassion | States and cities look to fix document woes for the poor
by Rob Holmes
Posted 7/04/18, 02:56 pm

Homeless Massachusetts residents may soon receive official ID cards without having to show an address. The state Senate approved a bill last week to change the current proof of residence requirement. Backers of the law say it will reduce the burden on homeless people by waiving fees and lowering barriers.

After years of voter ID debate across the states, the Massachusetts bill follows a general shift toward reducing barriers to getting ID for minorities, those with no residence, the disabled, and the poor and not making ID a ticket to vote. Like 16 other states, including border states California and New Mexico, Massachusetts has no voter ID requirement.

A total of 34 states require some kind of ID for voting but will provide free ID for those needing it. In only 10 states do residents’ votes not count until they can prove their identity, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Some states, like North Carolina, provide no-fee ID cards, making provision for both the homeless and the homebound. Texas rolled out free voter ID cards in 2013.

Some cities and states have found creative solutions to maintaining ID information on the homeless. Austin, Texas, piloted the use of blockchain technology to keep records for homeless people. Arizona’s Homeless I.D. Project helps people procure documents and ID even if it means paying for a trip to the Department of Motor Vehicles. In Washington state, social workers are authorized to help foster kids apply for a state ID called an “identicard.”

Even with free or low-barrier IDs, states still expect people to prove their identity and citizenship using other state-issued paperwork—often a burden for low-income people. North Carolina requires proof of age and identity, a valid Social Security number and proof of citizenship and residency to issue an ID card. For someone homeless, a shelter facility director can furnish a letter giving proof of nonresidence.

As the public view of ID gets more compassionate and states get more innovative in serving citizens with access to ID online or by mail, the federal government is tightening its grip on identity data. Thirty-one states have complied with the ID section (Title II) of the REAL ID Act of 2005, in effect since 2008.

Following the passage of the Patriot Act, legislated to improve national security in 2001 after 9/11, the REAL ID Act aimed to secure federal installations, ports of entry, and airports by requiring minimum standards for state-issued ID documents. Without this new ID a person may not access federal facilities, nuclear plants, or commercial aircraft. Critics call it a national identity system or an “internal passport that will increasingly be used to track and control individuals’ movements and activities,” the American Civil Liberties union warned on the website RealNightmare.org. But confirming a person’s identity through a representative document underscores the value of individuals as unique and endowed with certain rights, as the state of Massachusetts is doing by giving ID even to those with no place to call home.

Associated Press/Photo by Timothy Easley Associated Press/Photo by Timothy Easley Matt Bevin

Medicaid woes in Kentucky

More than 10 percent of Kentuckians could lose Medicaid vision and dental coverage this month after a judge struck down Gov. Matt Bevin’s attempt to overhaul his state’s plan. 

U.S. District Judge James E. Boasberg ruled against the plan, saying that the state may not require poor people to work in order to hold on to benefits. But the governor said the plan costs too much to go on as-is. 

Kentucky expanded Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act while Democrat Steve Beshear was governor. Now the joint state-federal insurance program faces a shortfall of $300 million for the upcoming two years, with over 460,000 people enrolled.

Kentucky Health  Secretary Adam Meier said vision and dental insurance would fall by the wayside as “significant benefit reductions” after the federal judge’s ruling took the teeth out of Bevin’s solution, which would have imposed a work requirement of 80 hours per month on beneficiaries and allowed monthly premiums. The work requirement was officially titled “community engagement” and had been approved by Health and Human Services for adults 19 to 64 years old, with exceptions. Working, training, volunteering, or even studying would have fulfilled the requirement. But Boasberg objected again and said “95,000 would lose Medicaid coverage.”

Michigan and Virginia have already approved work requirements for Medicaid, and another eight states seek the same conditions. But the Kentucky ruling may affect those efforts.

The stir-up over Medicaid comes less than a month after nearly 400 activists with the Poor People’s Campaign demonstrated against poverty at the Kentucky Capitol in Frankfort. A recent two-at-a-time entry rule prevented the group from going into the Capitol together since they had no permit to carry out a demonstration inside. —R.H.

Associated Press/Photo by Rick West/Daily Herald Associated Press/Photo by Rick West/Daily Herald Doug Henke, who lives in a tent city, works at a computer at the public library in Elgin, Ill.

Hot and homeless

Authorities are struggling to help vulnerable people cope as Sun Belt temperatures hit Snow Belt cities this week. Temperatures and heat indexes are forecast to soar over 100 degrees Fahrenheit in several northern U.S. states. Even Montreal, Canada, expects to bake into the mid-90s. Many localities have not seen such heat in two or more years, according to AccuWeather.

New York City’s Emergency Management Department told New Yorkers to “check on your neighbors … especially seniors, young children and those with disabilities” and urged people to seek cool spots at home or go to designated cooling centers at libraries, community centers, senior centers, or a mall. In neighboring Newark, N.J., citizens heeded the call to be good neighbors: Funding for a city homeless shelter ran out just as the heat wave cranked up, sending 180 people out on the street on Monday. But residents nearby came to the rescue, offering water and food.

Newark officials said they are seeking $2.5 million for housing and a way to shelter those who are homeless, WPIX-TV reported. —R.H

Rob Holmes

Rob is a graduate of the WORLD Journalism Institute’s mid-career course. Follow Rob on Twitter @SouthernFlyer.

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