IDNYC | Big Bold Cities


Providing Identity to All Residents

Photo courtesy of IDNYC

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In 2014, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced his plan to launch the largest municipal identification card program in the United States, IDNYC, which is a government-issued, secure identification card that is available to all NYC residents age 14 and older. In an era of extreme income disparity, the IDNYC program is an engine of greater civic, cultural, and economic equity for all New Yorkers, regardless of income or immigration status. The card provides residents access to City services and entry to public buildings. It facilitates interactions with local police; can be used as a library card at every public library in NYC; and participating financial institutions accept IDNYC as primary identification for opening an account. In short, this free and easy-to-obtain photo ID can be used by locals to navigate the city in the absence of other official identification like a driver’s license. The cards are widely available but also maintain NYPD-approved integrity standards, which require robust authentication of the documents that applicants submit to prove their identity and residency.

The card is not merely for New Yorkers without government-issued identification, including its over 550k undocumented residents, and New York City’s disproportionately high number of residents without a driver’s license. The IDNYC card offers valuable partnerships and free or discounted memberships to cultural institutions, prescription drug discounts, reduced-price movie tickets and fitness club memberships and more. These benefits have significantly broadened the appeal of the cards, and last March, the program surpassed 1 million cardholders, only two years after its launch. Vast participation of residents is essential to ensuring that IDNYC is not immediately associated with immigration status and effectively stigma-free, which in turn enables the card to be a “hot commodity” for all city residents who enjoy the card’s benefits.

Democratic Challenge

Megacities host diverse communities, including many groups who have difficulty obtaining official government identification, or lack access to the necessary documents. These groups include undocumented immigrants, the homeless, gender non-conforming and transgender individuals, survivors of domestic violence, and others who simply have not obtained official government ID.  Full participation in civic life-- from opening a bank account and enrolling in school, to interacting with police or quickly accessing medical records -- may be dependent on these ID cards. Lack of acceptable ID makes all of these activities much more problematic for large segments of society.

How’d They Do It?

Mayor de Blasio set out an aggressive six-month timeline for rolling out the IDNYC card,  requiring a high level of collaboration between government partners, community groups and vendors. The program’s security standards were based on those of the New York State Department of Motor Vehicles, the Transportation Security Administration and the FBI.  In consultation with the New York City Police Department, IDNYC designed a “point system” for establishing an applicant’s identity that is both rigorous and accessible to non-citizens, homeless New Yorkers and others. The City of New York maintains 20 permanent enrollment centers in all five boroughs; up to four pop-up enrollment centers at any given time; and applying for the card takes on average under  15 minutes. For homebound residents, IDNYC can send a mobile enrollment unit that processes applications remotely.

Key to the program’s design was making sure the card was stigma-free. The museum and other benefits have been a draw to those New Yorkers who do not need the card as a form of ID, but whose participation is vital to ensure that IDNYC is not solely associated with ones’ immigration status or similar inability to obtain government-issued identification. In fact, demand for cards from all New Yorkers was so high that the City needed to quickly increase enrollment capacity, hire more staff,  and secure additional equipment.

How’s It Going?  

To date, over one million New Yorkers have become cardholders. According to a program evaluation conducted/released in 2016:

  • 58 percent of IDNYC cardholders utilize the card as a form of identification (70 percent of immigrant cardholders)
  • 50 percent said IDNYC was their most commonly-used ID (67 percent of immigrant cardholders)
  • 25 percent said IDNYC was their only form of US photo identification (37 percent of immigrant cardholders)

In addition, 97 percent of cardholders indicated multiple reasons for getting an IDNYC card. 71 percent of survey respondents said they had obtained an IDNYC “to show support for the program;” 68 percent said they obtained the card to access memberships and other benefits; and 22 percent said they obtained the card to self-designate their gender.


What are best practices in reaching residents of cities who may lack legal immigration status?   

How can benefits for vulnerable populations remain a priority, without stigmatizing the card?

Innovation Point of Contact

Colette Samman
Executive Director

Who Else Is Trying This

Washington D.C., United States

The DC One Card is an initiative launched to provide equal access to Washington DC’s residents to government programs and facilities, such as schools, recreation centers and libraries, and the metro system, understanding that the most vulnerable citizens who  need of these services are the ones who are unable to receive them. The municipality initially focused on youth, but due to the importance of these services, it has been able to target other vulnerable groups such as the homeless, youths in foster care, people with disabilities, and the formerly incarcerated. This innovation did not initially encompass the undocumented community, but in an effort to integrate immigrant youth this has come to change.

New Haven, Connecticut, United States

The New Haven Elm City Resident Card was introduced in New Haven, CT by Mayor John DeStefano as a municipal identification card for citizens who might not have access to city services and features due to citizenship status. This card was introduced by the city to address issues faced by the city’s growing immigrant population, such as: high rates of theft due to inability to open bank accounts; under-reporting of crime due to distrust of law enforcement; lack of civic engagement due to shortage of integrative local opportunities. These cards--which serve as forms of identification, debit cards, library cards, and parking meter cards--provide practical functions that are necessary for all New Haven citizens, regardless of citizenship status, and that make these cards attractive to citizens who may have alternate methods of identification.