Guest Commentary

Municipal ID would make Wyandotte County residents count in 2020 census

Joelle Fishman poses with her new New Haven municipal ID card at City Hall in New Haven, Connecticut, on July 24, 2007, the first day that residents could obtain the cards being offered to all the city’s 125,000 residents.
Joelle Fishman poses with her new New Haven municipal ID card at City Hall in New Haven, Connecticut, on July 24, 2007, the first day that residents could obtain the cards being offered to all the city’s 125,000 residents. Associated Press file photo

The 2020 U.S. Census offers the best argument yet for a Wyandotte County municipal ID ordinance.

A higher, more accurate count of our community means more federal resources, since the government apportions those resources according to population. A municipal ID would help identify people whom the count likely would miss, such as the elderly, immigrants and the homeless, among others.

We have so much to gain by doing the appropriate thing, and so much to lose if we don’t.

A municipal ID card is a form of photo identification issued by a city or county government. It can be used to prove a person’s identity within the city or county limits or to access services from any institution that agrees to accept the card as proof of identity.

It would not grant driving privileges or replace federally issued identification required for travel as a driver’s license or passport would.

It would, however, help as many as 30,000 people in Wyandotte County — one in five residents there — obtain identification. People without identification can’t open bank accounts, cash checks, register children for school or fill prescriptions.

Without an ID, senior citizens, immigrants, homeless people, those re-entering society after incarceration, foster youths and others cannot fully engage as a part of the community.

Among those populations, counts in immigrant communities could prove pivotal. A controversial citizenship question included on the 2020 census could result in more than 24 million people nationwide neglecting to fill out the form for fear that their names and addresses could be shared with law enforcement — even the vast majority who have broken absolutely no laws.

Let’s ensure that everyone in our community has the confidence necessary to step out of the shadows and be counted. Billions of dollars hang in the balance.

The final count determines, for example, the number of Electoral College votes and the number of congressional seats allotted to each state. Also, most of the federal funding tied to the census impacts programs such as Medicaid, Section 8 housing assistance and school lunches.

“Census results are essential to the equitable and prudent distribution of federal program dollars to states and local areas,” said a 2018 George Washington Institute of Public Policy report. “Three hundred federal programs geographically allocate over $800 billion a year based on census-derived statistics.”

In fiscal year 2015, 37 states forfeited a measurable amount of funds for each person missed in the 2010 Census, according to the report. And among those 37 states, the losses per person ranged from $533 for Utah to $2,309 for Vermont.

A higher and more accurate census count offers the entire community undeniable benefits. Wyandotte County’s unified government should open public discussion about a municipal ID ordinance.

An 18-member coalition supports such a program. Dozens of cities and counties have already issued these ID cards, including New Haven, Connecticut; Phoenix, Arizona; South Bend, Indiana; Austin, Texas; Johnson County, Iowa; Milwaukee and Little Rock, Arkansas. These cards can be provided to residents for free or at a nominal cost. Under state and federal law, counties have the full legal authority to create municipal ID programs and to establish protections for the safety and privacy of residents who apply for the cards.

Any expenses, however, would pay for themselves many times over through the funding of programs and more people being able to more fully participate in the economy. We all win.

If we don’t move forward on this, everyone stands to lose our rightful spot at the governing table. And as the old saying goes, if you’re not at the table, you’re on the menu.

Irene Caudillo is president and CEO of El Centro, Inc., a 501(c)(3) nonprofit based in Wyandotte County.

  Comments