Gotham Gazette

The Place for New York Policy and politics


De Blasio's Next Campaign: Municipal IDs


(image via IDNYC website)

With ambitious goals and an attractive list of cultural benefits, the city's new municipal identification card program, dubbed IDNYC, will launch next month.

Recently, Mayor de Blasio announced the latest rules and criteria for the program, established as Local Law 35 in July, including documentation that will be required to apply for the card, which will be free of charge in 2015. The card will also ensure free membership to over 30 New York City cultural institutions, an impressive list that the City has told Gotham Gazette it is already in discussions to expand.

As the calendar turns to 2015 and the card becomes available, the City is preparing another marketing campaign in the mold of ones it ran to announce the implementation of the paid sick leave law and vastly expanded pre-kindergarten offerings. There is also the ongoing campaign to lure the 2016 Democratic National Convention to New York, of course.

The municipal card rollout will include the opening of 12 "IDNYC Enrollment Centers" around the city - the locations of which have not yet been announced. The "campaign" has recently seen a shot in the arm through the unveiling of a new logo, the launch of a specific Twitter account (@IDNYC), and the start of community-based public forums, including one in Sunset Park, Brooklyn, hosted by City Council immigration committee chair Carlos Menchaca, a major force behind the ID movement.

New York's will be the largest such municipal ID program in the country. Hailed as a progressive move to integrate the large undocumented immigrant population of the city, the program will provide access to city services and will be accepted as identification by the NYPD. Applicants will not be asked their immigration status upon applying for the card.

At a December 5 press conference, the Mayor and his two top commissioners tasked with implementing IDNYC laid out the application procedures for the ID along with strong regulations on preventing fraud and protecting the information collected by the Human Resources Administration (HRA) for the card.

"We want New Yorkers to feel proud to carry this card in their wallet," de Blasio said after explaining that "A great deal of analysis and care went into ensuring our IDNYC card is strong on privacy and security, while providing access to as many people as possible."

De Blasio and members of his administration seek to stress the security and the benefits of the card, both for the ears of undocumented immigrants living in the city as well as the larger population. A major part of the push behind the IDs will be to ensure that they are not just a card for the undocumented and that there is no stigma attached.

The application for the card will require point-based proof of identity and residency similar to the system employed at the Department of Motor Vehicles, with certain provisions in place for homeless New Yorkers who apply. Among the data protection provisions, specific guidelines have been put in place to protect vulnerable applicants such as survivors of domestic abuse. An appeals process was also established for applicants who are denied a card.

These rules were implemented through executive action by HRA Commissioner Steven Banks, partially in response to feedback the City received online and at a public hearing in October.

The ID will be available to all New York City residents 14 years and above regardless of immigration status or homelessness. It will be free for the first year and valid for five years after that. The cost for successive years has not yet been determined, said city officials.

In promoting the card, the administration announced a number of incentives, chief among them being partnerships with 33 of the city's largest cultural institutions, including museums, art galleries and zoos, which will provide benefits and discounts to those with a municipal ID.

Ryan Max, director of external affairs at the Department of Cultural Affairs says the 33 institutions are simply phase 1 of the program and that an expansion can be expected in 2016. "In phase 2, I'm sure we'll see a lot of other cultural organizations providing similar benefits and many have already expressed interest in participating."

The 33 participating institutions are a part of the Cultural Institutions Group (CIG), a system of public-private partnership. They are situated on city land, which they utilize rent-free, and receive energy and operating subsidies from the City. For 2015, CIG members were allocated about $109 million from the Department of Cultural Affairs' total expense budget of roughly $157 million.

This cultural partnership does come with a few caveats though. The municipal ID isn't a membership card and people will still be required to sign up for individual memberships at the cultural institutions. Although the free partnership program expires at the end of 2015, the memberships will last a year from the date of signing up. Also, those who already have memberships or had been members of an institution in the last three years will not be eligible, although they will receive discounts at other institutions where they were not members. "We wanted to make sure we weren't eating into that existing revenue stream," said Max.

(Although it is highly unlikely that any one person will sign up at all the 33 institutions, the program calculates a total $2100 discount for anyone who does.)

The Cultural Affairs department does not expect a heavy financial burden from the program and does not have projections yet for the number of people expected to sign up in the first year. City officials, who said they could not reveal their internal targets, said a number of announcements would be made in the next few weeks to spread the word about the municipal ID and it's expanded benefits.

by Samar Khurshid, Gotham Gazette

Note: this article has been updated with more accurate figures on the CIG and DCA budget numbers.

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