New Pa. law provides free photo ID to people experiencing homelessness | Tuesday Morning Coffee

February 16, 2021 7:14 am

A sample Pennsylvania driver’s license (PennDOT)

Good Tuesday Morning, Fellow Seekers.

The Pennsylvania Department of Transportation, in partnership with the state Department of Human Services, has started offering free identification cards, and free renewals to people who are experiencing homelessness, the two agencies have announced.

The cards were authorized in a new state law that Gov. Tom Wolf signed in late 2020. It stemmed from an underlying bill originally sponsored by state Rep. Lori Mizgorski, R-Allegheny.

“All Pennsylvanians deserve access to the basic needs we all have: adequate food, safe housing, quality health care and clean water. Eliminating barriers to basic needs for individuals experiencing homelessness is simply the right thing to do,” Human Services Department Secretary Teresa Miller said in a statement.

To get an ID card, people experiencing homelessness have to apply in person at a PennDOT Driver License Center. Once there, they have to tell a clerk that they’re applying for a free ID, or seeking a renewal. They’ll also be required to provide a letter from a shelter attesting that the person is staying there, or uses the shelter as a mailing address, the two agencies said in a statement.

For a renewal of a photo ID, the applicant will be required to certify on their application that they’re experiencing homelessness, and the fee will be waived, the agencies said.

Homeless encampment on the Ben Franklin Parkway and 22nd Street where community activists called on the City of Philadelphia to focus on helping the poor and homeless instead of trying to displace them (Image via The Philadelphia Tribune)

“Difficulty getting IDs, including because of lack of funds, is a huge barrier for many of our clients who are homeless, and not having an ID makes it very difficult to get housing, to get medical care, to find a job, and to get other types of help,” Amy Hirsch, the Managing Attorney at Community Legal Services of Philadelphia, said. “Getting an ID is a tremendously important step forward for people who are homeless that helps people stabilize their lives, and take care of themselves and their children. We are excited that this program removes the barrier caused by needing to pay for a state ID.“

The law is the latest expansion in license services offered by PennDOT. Last July, the agency announced that it would begin offering non-binary designations on drivers licenses and photo identification cards, the Capital-Star’s Cassie Miller reported. With that move, Pennsylvania became the 16th state in the nation to offer a non-binary option on licenses and ID cards.

Rafael Alvarez Febo, the executive director of the Pennsylvania Commission on LGBTQ Affairs, called the change “a very important step toward better serving Pennsylvanians of all gender identities.”

“Your state issued ID is quite possibly the most important identity document you use on a daily basis,” Febo said, “it should reflect your truth.”

And if you’re experiencing homelessness or going through a hard time during the pandemic, there are avenues of assistance.

Applications for public assistance programs can be submitted online at Those who prefer to submit paper documentation can pick one up from their local County Assistance Office (CAO), print it from the website, or request by phone at 1-800-692-7462. While county offices are closed to the public during the pandemic, you can apply through the mail or drop your paperwork into a secure dropbox, if available, officials said. You don’t need to know whether you’re eligible for assistance to apply.

Pennsylvania State Capitol Building. (Capital-Star photo by Cassie Miller.)

Our Stuff.
State Sen. John Blake, D-Lackawanna, will resign his seat next month to take an economic development job with U.S. Rep. Matt Cartwright, D-8th Districtsparking a special election for his NEPA-based seatStephen Caruso reports.

Philly state Rep. Brian Sims says he’ll seek the Democratic nomination for lieutenant governor in 2022, Caruso also reports.

Protesters seeking justice and reform asked “Where is the love?” during a Valentine’s Day rally in Lancaster, Correspondent Lauren Manelius reports.

GOP lawmakers in 28 states, including Pennsylvania, have introduced more than 100 bills seeking to restrict ballot access, our partners at report.

On our Commentary Page this morning, public health advocate Melissa Weiler Gerber adds her voice to a growing chorus calling on the General Assembly to prioritize women’s and family health issues during the 2021-22 legislative session. Abolitionist John Brown was a violent crusader, but he blazed a moral path President Lincoln followed to end slaveryAdam Seagrave of Arizona State University writes.

(Getty Images via The Beacon)

The vaccine group Philly Fighting COVID got a contract with the city of Philadelphia while groups emphasizing a racially equitable response to vaccinations did not, the Inquirer reports.
The University of Pittsburgh and the NCAA knew about concussion risks for football players, but never took action to protect them, new litigation claims. The Tribune-Review has the story.
It’s Shrove TuesdayPennLive has what you need to know about where to buy fastnachts, those sugar-filled calorie bombs that are a holiday tradition.
The Morning Call measures the fallout from the ice storm that swept through the Lehigh Valley on Monday night.
Republicans in Lancaster County are weighing a measure to censure U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pa., for his impeachment vote, LancasterOnline reports.
The Wilkes-Barre area schools are expecting schools to reopen within two weeks, the Citizens-Voice reports.

Here’s your #Pittsburgh Instagram of the Day:


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A post shared by OddPittsburgh (@oddpittsburgh)

Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner is calling on city officials to spend $100 million to curb gun violence in the city, WHYY-FM reports.
The Pennsylvania Republican Party also may meet to consider censuring U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pa.the Associated Press reports (via WITF-FM).
Virginia will become the second state, after California, to enact a data privacy lawRoll Call reports.

What Goes On.
Budget hearings get rolling in the House Appropriations Committee today. All sessions will be live-streamed from the state House chamber. Here’s the day’s schedule:
10 a.m: Department of Revenue/Lottery
1 p.m.: Independent Fiscal Office
3 p.m.: Department of Aging

You Say It’s Your Birthday Dept.
Best wishes go out this morning to Abby Foster at the Bravo Group in Harrisburg, and to veteran PR hand and broadcaster Nell McCormack Abom, both of whom celebrate today. Congratulations, friends. Enjoy the day.

Heavy Rotation.
One must step lightly and carefully if they intend to cover The Beatles, doubly so if it’s a towering anthem like “Hey Jude,” where the last thing you want to do is ‘make it bad.’ So here’s a new version from Canadian production duo Pineo & Loeb, abetted by Glass Tiger frontman Alan Frew, that nimbly avoids that trap by honoring the original, even as it adds some decidedly modern touches.

Tuesday’s Gratuitous Hockey Link.
Carolina buttoned up the Columbus Blue Jackets 7-3 at home at PNC Bank Arena on Monday night. The ‘Canes scored a stunning six, unanswered goals on the way to the win.

And now you’re up to date.

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John L. Micek

A three-decade veteran of the news business, John L. Micek is the Pennsylvania Capital-Star's former Editor-in-Chief.