PA Senate Committee Votes to Block Public Aid for US Citizens, Says ACLU of PA

February 8, 2011 12:00 am

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HARRISBURG (February 8)- The Pennsylvania Senate State Government Committee passed legislation today to prohibit US citizens without government-issued identification from accessing public aid programs. The American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania protested the committee vote on Senate Bill 9, saying it places undue burdens on marginalized populations.

“Based on academic study, more than one million Pennsylvanians potentially do not have government-issued ID,” said Andy Hoover, legislative director of the ACLU of Pennsylvania. “This bill blocks access to aid at a time when people continue to need it due to the sluggish economy.”

In 2006, the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law conducted a survey that found that approximately 11 percent of U.S. citizens do not have government-issued photo identification. Titled “Citizens Without Proof,” the survey found that those without this form of ID are disproportionately people who earn less than $35,000 annually, African-Americans, and people over the age of 65.

In 2008, the Rendell administration estimated that implementing SB 9 would cost $19 million. The costs would include a complete revamping of the unemployment compensation program, which currently takes applicants over the phone and over the internet.

According to a 2007 article in the Denver Post, Colorado spent $2 million to implement a similar program and found no savings.

“This bill is a solution in search of a problem,” Hoover said. “There is no credible evidence that ineligible applicants are receiving public assistance.”

After Colorado spent more than it saved to implement a law like SB 9, numerous states altered their verification processes but without the government-issued ID requirement. Those states include Georgia, Idaho, Missouri, Nebraska, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Utah, and Virginia.

“Here in Pennsylvania, we have to do it ourselves and learn the hard way, apparently,” Hoover quipped.

Currently, most applicants for public aid show identification. If the applicant does not have government-issued ID, the issuing agency will work with the applicant to find other forms of verification, such as medical records or school records.

SB 9 cuts off that alternative form of verification.

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