NYC quietly shuttered enrollment centers for residential ID cards, a lifeline for some

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By Dan Sears

The city has quietly shuttered enrollment centers where New Yorkers can sign up for municipal identification cards since Mayor Eric Adams took office, a review by Gothamist found.

The decline in the number of enrollment centers is contributing to delays in securing appointments — and even caused some people to wait in long lines outside in the snow to obtain IDs that offer a lifeline for New Yorkers who lack other government-issued identification, according to the program’s staunchest supporters.

The city-issued photo ID cards can help New Yorkers open bank accounts, enter their children’s schools or have identification to show police. While the city issued more ID cards in the last year than the year before, the data doesn’t capture those who want cards but can’t secure appointments.

“It is harder and harder for New Yorkers to actually get an IDNYC card. We are making it impossible to get an appointment,” said Councilmember Lincoln Restler of Brooklyn, who helped launch the program in 2015.

The Department of Social Services, which administers the IDNYC program, said fewer sites are part of the city’s new model to consolidate smaller sites into larger, more centrally located facilities to maximize capacity.

DSS spokesperson Nicholas Jacobelli said the consolidation contributed to more cards being issued last year.

“We issued 43% more IDNYC cards in 2023 when compared to 2022, and we continue to take the necessary steps, like transitioning to an appointment-only model, to continue to efficiently and effectively serve more New Yorkers,” he said in an email.

In 2016, a year after then-Mayor Bill de Blasio announced the city-issued photo ID program — known as IDNYC — more than two dozen enrollment centers opened inside libraries, nonprofits and hospitals throughout the five boroughs. Now, just 10 enrollment locations remain, according to the city’s own website.

“I am heartbroken that one of the major accomplishments of the previous administration that had done so much to make all New Yorkers feel included and have a sense of real identity for our city, the IDNYC card, is being run to the ground,” Restler said.

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The city’s official municipal ID cards were among de Blasio’s crowning achievements, and allowed New York City residents to access city services regardless of their immigration status.

The city-issued ID cards preceded a 2019 state law that made state-issued IDs and driver’s licenses available to undocumented immigrants.

The IDNYC card also has more novel perks for New Yorkers, such as free membership to museums, zoos and botanical gardens, and discounts for events, gyms, and movies.

More than 2 million cards have been issued since 2015. Last year, more than 127,000 IDs were issued, a 43% increase from the prior year and more than 137,000 applications were filed, a 45% increase from 2022, according to data provided by DSS. Much of that increase was due to the increase in asylum seekers, the city said in the annual mayor’s management report.

Gothamist reviewed archived versions of the city’s website publicly listing the enrollment centers between 2015 and 2024. The city had as many as 29 enrollment centers open in 2017. The number of locations currently open is the lowest since the pandemic in 2021.

The Bronx had the steepest decline in enrollment centers among the boroughs: It had as many as 10 locations in 2017, now it has one. Manhattan, where many migrants are residing in city-funded hotel shelters, had at least nine enrollment centers in 2019; it now has three.

The city said enrollment centers were largely closed in 2020 and 2021 because of the pandemic and resumed operations in 2022. Gothamist’s review found that 17 locations were open in July 2022, but that the city has since shuttered several locations — including one at the Bronx Library Center in Fordham, a busy destination for migrants seeking IDs and other services in a neighborhood that is home to several immigrant communities.

New York Public Library spokesperson Jennifer Fermino confirmed that the library used to offer IDNYC at two locations, the Bronx Library Center and Cathedral Library. She said the service was in high demand, especially as migrants arrived in the city. She deferred questions about the program to the city.

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Both library locations were closed by the city late last year.

NYPL President Tony Marx told city councilmembers during a budget hearing last March that the Bronx Library Center had become a hub for asylum-seekers, who were accessing their IDNYC enrollment center.

“The asylum-seekers come to us, they know they can trust us because their families and friends say they can,” he said before the Council. “We’ve got folks seeking help lining the block around the Bronx Library Center and so many other of our locations.”

Rafael Monge-Portaro, president of the Neighborhood Trust Federal Credit Union that hosted a city-run enrollment center in Upper Manhattan until 2020, said there was a steady flow of applicants at his location but that it likely closed due to the pandemic. He added that they’re always open to partnering with government programs to help the community.

Migrants waited overnight in long lines outside the Boerum Hill ID NYC location for a chance to snag a walk-in spot, The New York Times reported.

Restler said families began sleeping outside in lines last month as online appointments became harder to secure. Earlier this month, the Department of Social Services announced it would no longer offer walk-in appointments at limited locations. Now, New Yorkers can only sign up for appointments online.

In a January letter to DSS Commissioner Molly Wasow Park, Restler and Councilmember Shahana Hanif called on the agency to expand capacity at IDNYC enrollment sites and set up centers inside shelters to “ensure that no one is forced to sleep on the street and even risk their life for an appointment with a city agency.”

DSS said they can help 1,000 applicants a day and release appointment slots only for the coming week to avoid having them filled up months in advance. The agency said it would continue to look at ways to increase capacity.

But groups helping residents sign up for ID cards say they can’t find open appointments amid a surge in demand from new arrivals and a lack of new enrollment centers.

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“It’s almost like winning the lottery,” said Ed Litvak, a spokesperson for Asian Americans for Equality, a housing and immigration advocacy group.

The nonprofit used to operate an IDNYC site in Sunset Park between 2016 and 2018.

Litvak said he hasn’t seen too much demand for IDNYC from their clients, but staff have struggled to secure appointments for those who need them over the last year.

Restler said the administration’s failure to meet demand reflected widespread backlogs permeating through the agency, which has left residents facing longer waits for benefits than ever before as it contends with chronic delays in processing cash assistance and food stamp applications.

“The administration has implemented half a dozen rounds of budget cuts in just two years. They have been forcing every agency to do more, to do their jobs with much, much less support,” he said.

“This administration needs to move forward and recognize what a success the IDNYC program has been and invest in the necessary staffing so that people who need the card, especially recently arrived migrants, are able to get the government ID that will allow them to function safely in New York City.”

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