Outside the Philly 311 office Thursday, Mayor Jim Kenney held up a small rectangular piece of shiny plastic. On it were his picture, his name, and other personal information.

Kenney showed off the city’s new identification card — called the PHL City ID card — an option meant to help Philadelphians who, due to citizenship status, poverty, or other circumstances, can’t easily get state-issued IDs. The city began offering the cards to residents Thursday.

“I can’t imagine what not having an ID is like on a daily basis,” Kenney said, adding that the city’s card will help “those who have been falling through the cracks of our society."

The cards, he said, will allow “more residents to more fully participate in the city’s vibrancy.”

The municipal IDs are designed to provide identification that people need to access social services, apply for housing and jobs, and open bank accounts. Philadelphia follows cities such as New York; Newark, N.J.; Chicago; San Francisco; and Detroit in offering such cards.

Philadelphia began offering a municipal ID card -- called PHL City ID -- on Thursday, April 4, 2019. This sample card uses Mayor Jim Kenney's face and name.
Philadelphia began offering a municipal ID card -- called PHL City ID -- on Thursday, April 4, 2019. This sample card uses Mayor Jim Kenney's face and name.

Philadelphians will be able to use them to sign in to schools and city buildings; access recreation centers, city programs, and city services; and provide ID to law enforcement officials within city limits. Banks in the city also will accept the cards as a secondary form of ID. Residents cannot use the cards to drive, travel, or enter federal buildings.

As in other cities, Philadelphia officials also are trying to persuade businesses, banks, and arts and cultural institutions to accept the cards as proof of identity and to offer discounts through the IDs. Cities add perks to encourage all residents to get the IDs in an effort to remove stigma that might be associated with the cards.

Among the businesses offering discounts and benefits in Philadelphia are the Phillies, the African American Museum of Philadelphia, the Philadelphia Museum of Art, Las Cazuelas restaurant in Northern Liberties, Vista Peru restaurant in Old City, the Kimmel Center, and Lyft.

Philadelphia’s municipal IDs also can double as Free Library cards. The city’s Department of Prisons plans to offer the IDs to people it releases. City officials are visiting banks in efforts to persuade them to accept the cards as primary identification, and the list of card benefits continues to grow, said Joanna Otero-Cruz, the city’s deputy managing director for community services, who is leading the municipal ID program.

“I know the impact [of the card] will be felt immediately in our communities and in the years to come,” she said.

Advocates for people living in poverty or who are homeless have said they would like the state to make its IDs easier and cheaper to get, since those traditional IDs are more widely accepted.

The city’s IDs are cheaper than state IDs — ranging from $5 to $10 vs. $30.50 for the state’s identification card. Philadelphia residents aged 13 and older can get the cards, as long as they can prove their identities and addresses through combinations of documents, such as birth certificates, letters from social service agencies, school records, and bills.

The first 1,000 cards the city issues — minus a couple hundred the city has already distributed to residents during a soft launch last week — will be free.

Philadelphia politicians, including Kenney when he was a Council member, have advocated for a municipal ID for years. Concerns over privacy and how the city would handle personal documents contributed to the delay of the program.

Advocates for undocumented immigrants said they worried that the U.S. Department of Homeland Security would access the personal information of immigrants to deport them. The city has said it will not keep copies of documents used to apply for municipal IDs and will keep information confidential to the extent it legally can.

Residents can get municipal IDs during the day at the Philly 311 office, Room 167 of City Hall, throughout the week by appointment or by walking in on Wednesdays. Residents can schedule appointments online or by calling 311. The city also plans to distribute IDs at pop-up mobile sites, including at Broad Street Ministry and Prevention Point Philadelphia, with some evening and weekend hours.

The cards show each resident’s name, address, date of birth, photo, and unique identification number. Gender is optional. The cards also include issuance and expiration dates, and residents can choose to add emergency contact information or medical conditions.

The cards cost $5 for residents 13 to 17 years old and $10 for adults up to age 64. Those 65 and older can get the cards for free.