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Mass. lawmakers again consider waiving ID fees for people experiencing homelessness

A bill making it easier for people experiencing homelessness to get a Massachusetts identification card is once again moving forward on Beacon Hill.

Legislation sponsored by Worcester Democratic Sen. Harriette Chandler would waive any fees associated with applying for an ID. Applicants would still be expected to provide proof of residence from a homeless service provider or other agency.

The state Senate unanimously passed the bill Thursday. It now goes to the House for review, where it has failed in the past.

Chandler told WBUR that eliminating the financial burden of the ID process for people who are homeless is crucial.

"Many people would have to choose between food, or transportation to a health appointment, or paying for a state ID," she said. "But this bill basically removes the barrier."

Chandler introduced a similar bill focused on IDs last year. That measure also passed unanimously in the Senate but died in the House.

This time around, the bill applies not only to adults but also to youth who are homeless, as well as people who have become homeless as a result of domestic violence.

Chandler said people tend to take for granted how essential IDs are for everyday life. She said not having an ID has major consequences — from job applications, to opening a financial account, to simply picking up a package at the post office.

"Without an ID, you're kind of no one. Nowhere. You're invisible. And that does not help the homeless situation," Chandler said. "It also doesn't help with the mental health problems that somebody is homeless may have."

If approved by the House and then by Gov. Charlie Baker, the bill would allow people experiencing homelessness to walk into a Registry of Motor Vehicles office to sign up for their ID, as long as they have documentation to prove their residency.

The legislation also has the backing of local organizations that work with the homeless population.

Leemarie Mosca, president and CEO of the Boston women's shelter Rosie's Place, said in a statement the bill would create "more equity and opportunity" for some of the state's most vulnerable people.

Deborah Silva, executive director of the Massachusetts Appleseed Center for Law and Justice, said ID-related issues routinely come up as a stumbling block among young people who are homeless. She said in a statement it's "critical" the bill land on Baker's desk for final approval.

Kelly Turley, associate director of the Massachusetts Coalition for the Homeless, calls difficulties around ID access "needless."

"Prompt passage and enactment of the Massachusetts ID access bill is critical, especially at a time when the ripple effects of the COVID-19 pandemic further complicate access to housing and resources for families and individuals from every region of the Commonwealth who are experiencing homelessness and lack a Mass ID," Turley wrote in a statement.

Chandler said this is the third time that legislation around IDs for people who are homeless has advanced out of the Senate.

"We're hoping that the third time is a charm. I don't understand how it can pass ... the Senate three times, unanimously — unanimously — and not pass the House," she said. "It's my hope that the House, with a slightly different membership and leadership ... may agree with us and vote to join us on this."

This article was originally published on January 13, 2022.

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Jack Mitchell was an associate producer in WBUR's newsroom. He works across a wide spectrum of departments and shows — from the newscast unit, to WBUR.org, to Radio Boston.

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Dave Faneuf is WBUR's evening news anchor.

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