California Law Removes Public Assistance Barrier for Homeless People

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California Law Removes Public Assistance Barrier for Homeless People

Nina Liss-Schultz

People experiencing homelessness in California will have an easier time accessing public assistance programs under a new state law that will allow those without homes to get birth certificates and state IDs for free.

People experiencing homelessness in California will have an easier time accessing public assistance programs under a new state law that will allow those without homes to get birth certificates and state IDs for free.

Demonstrating that you’re a legal resident is part of the application for many public benefit programs in California, as in every other state. Lawmakers bent on preventing undocumented immigrants from receiving public assistance have made access to those programs contingent on proof of ID.

That requirement has also made assistance programs largely unavailable to homeless people, many of whom don’t have a state ID or a copy of their birth certificate and can’t pay the fee to get them. Requesting a DMV-issued state ID alone is $8 if your income is low enough and $28 if it’s not, a hefty cost for people who can’t afford bus tickets to the DMV office.

“Birth records and photo ID are required to apply for disability benefits, enroll in schools, obtain general assistance, apply for veteran’s benefits, and even establish eligibility for employment,” said John Bauters, director of homeless policy for Housing California, a nonprofit homeless advocacy organization that sponsored AB 1733. Gov. Jerry Brown signed the bill in September.

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Starting July 1, AB 1733 will remove the financial barrier to access by requiring that local registrars and county recorders give homeless people their birth certificates for free. The DMV will begin providing free state IDs in January 2016.

Under the law, homeless people will have to demonstrate that they are in fact living without a home, which they can do with the signature of a services provider, like a social worker or health care provider, who can verify through an affidavit that the person is homeless.

California had an estimated 136,826 people living without homes in 2013 and accounted for more than 22 percent of the nation’s homeless population, according to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

“The cost of removing the barrier imposed by waiving these relatively small fees pales in comparison to the savings that the state and county could realize when individuals utilizing emergency services and county resources are connected to federal funds in existing programs,” said Bauters. “The fact that you can dignify people who already struggle with so much in the process sends a message from our state and local communities to people in need that we support them as they work to overcome their homelessness.”