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Philadelphia Works to Develop New Municipal ID Card

Following in the footsteps of jurisdictions like New York City and Chicago, Philadelphia is aiming to roll out a new way for residents to access services by early 2019.

by / August 10, 2018
Philadelphia City Hall Shutterstock/Marco Rubino

Philadelphia is working to join the growing number of major American cities that offer municipal ID cards that remove barriers separating residents who lack driver’s licenses or state IDs from vital services.

Philadelphia’s program is still in development, with a target rollout date of early 2019, said Joanna Otero-Cruz, the city’s deputy managing director of community services. Otero-Cruz is currently overseeing the development of the municipal ID program in Philadelphia. To date, work on the program has involved tracking best practices, coordinating with Temple University on early research work, an RFP for a vendor and setting aside office space for the eventual staff in City Hall, among other things.

The city is also working with the Philadelphia Public Library, trying to incorporate as many important stakeholders as it can to broaden the approach to the card’s development.

“We know what’s worked really well is when a municipal ID is multi-faceted and has a wide appeal,” Otero-Cruz said.

They know this because in developing the card they’ve learned from the successes and setbacks and other cities who have similar programs already in use, cities such as New York City, Chicago and regional neighbors like Newark, N.J. The program has been under development for some time, with Philadelphia city staffers first visiting New York City to discuss it nearly two years ago.

Otero-Cruz said getting a card is likely to necessitate residents having things like passports, visas, consular identification cards and possibly even out-of-state IDs. The exact parameters are still being finalized, as is the cost. The city is, of course, aiming to find a price that will not present a barrier for low-income constituents, but at the same time, the program needs to be self-supporting. 

“This can be used by many people,” Otero-Cruz said. “We have domestic violence survivors and a growing elderly population who have a difficult time obtaining a state ID and, as a result, are not able to obtain basic services to meet their needs.”

That’s really the central point of this municipal ID program, as well as those in other cities: to ensure that residents who need city services are not incidentally barred from getting them because of hiccups with obtaining identification.

In cities like Chicago and Providence, R.I., the card has also taken on secondary functionality as an economic development tool, with businesses signing on to provide discounts for residents who use it. Like much of the Philadelphia program, that addition is also still being discussed.

Currently, the city is working to finalize a procurement contract with a vendor as well as to hire a full-time program coordinator and manager. The target rollout date is sometime in January.

Meanwhile, work continues to meet with stakeholders and potential users in order to collect as much local feedback about what residents and others in the community hope to see out of a completed municipal ID card project.

“This is an opportunity for us to hear different voices in the city from our residents who are able to identify what barriers they experience for services,” Otero-Cruz said. “The bottom line is we want individuals in the city of Philadelphia to be able to access services when it comes to meeting their basic needs.”

Zack Quaintance Assistant News Editor

Zack Quaintance is the assistant news editor for Government Technology. His background includes writing for daily newspapers across the country and developing content for a software company in Austin, Texas. He is now based in Washington, D.C. He can be reached via email.

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