“Coloradans need identification documents for many reasons, and generally need several documents proving name, age, identity, and citizenship in order to get a Colorado-issued identification card,” said state Rep. Daneya Esgar (D-Pueblo), who sponsored legislation, passed by the Colorado House Monday, that would help Colorado residents get a state-issued identification card. “Without an identification card, Colorado residents cannot open bank accounts, cash a check, pick up a prescription, or access health care, housing, employment, and public benefits. During this economic crisis with thousands of Coloradans losing their jobs, healthcare, and even their housing, we must do everything we can to make it easier for folks to get back on their feet. And that includes ensuring that the cost of an ID is not a barrier to getting back to work.”

Created by a 2016 law, the necessary documents program allocates $300,000 a year to non-profits that help low-income Coloradans obtain a Colorado state ID. These funds assist Coloradans with the fees to acquire identification documents, such as birth certificates, marriage decrees, and name change documents. 

From its inception, the necessary documents program, which is set to expire in September, was meant to help underprivileged Coloradans: victims of domestic violence, disabled people, and the homeless population, among others. For many of these people, the program has brought tangible benefits.

“When I found myself out-of-work and living out of my car, it was one of the lowest points in my life. I didn’t see how I could ever get back on my feet,” said Sofía Rodríguez, a member of the Metro Caring community. Metro Caring is a leading non-profit fighting hunger in Colorado, and one of the necessary documents program’s beneficiaries. “Thanks to the ID Voucher Program, I was able to obtain a copy of my driver’s license for a new job opportunity. I’ve been at that job for two years now, and have moved out of my car and into an apartment.”

America’s many social and financial inequalities have only been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. Many people were laid off as the pandemic began, leaving no income to pay for necessities. Others were forced to continue working, only to become ill and lose their income anyway. The brunt of these effects has been borne by those who were already marginalized, especially disabled people and communities of color. For these people, institutions like the necessary documents program can provide a critical safety net.

“Racial and ethnic health disparities of COVID-19 have been discussed for months,” said state Sen. Dominick Moreno (D-Adams), another sponsor of the bill. “COVID-19 is exacerbating the disparities in our system caused by centuries of racism – Black, Brown, and Indigenous communities are continually denied the resources needed to be safe and healthy and lack equal access to health insurance and care. When identification documentation is required to access health insurance and public support programs, it’s a matter of life-and-death for many, including Latinx communities in Colorado. We must continue this program to remove those barriers to accessing healthcare.”

The bill, SB21-018, titled “Continuation of Necessary Documents Program,” has been passed in both the Colorado Senate and the House of Representatives. If Polis signs it, funding for the necessary documents program will be extended indefinitely.