KY Policy Blog

Legislation Requiring Government-Issued ID Could Deny Public Benefits to Eligible Recipients

By Ashley Spalding
March 20, 2012

Senate Bill 118, which passed the Senate yesterday, would require applicants for all public benefits to provide proof of lawful presence in the United States. While the bill’s proponents say it is needed to bar illegal immigrants from state and federal public benefit programs, the legislation instead threatens benefits for citizens most in need of assistance, adds costs to the state and promotes inaccurate stereotypes about immigrants.

A substantial number of U.S. citizens do not have government-issued identification that proves citizenship—particularly those who are low-income, minority and elderly. One study found that approximately seven percent of all U.S. citizens lack such documentation. And among low-income, minority and elderly citizens, the rates are estimated to be much higher: 15 percent of citizens earning less than $35,000 per year; 18 percent of citizens aged 65 or above; and 25 percent of adult African American citizens. Women are also much less likely to have government-issued identification with their current name.1 Government-issued identification has become increasingly difficult to obtain or replace, and the proposed legislation allows an applicant only 30 days after applying for benefits to produce such documentation.2 If Senate Bill 118 becomes law, a significant number of Kentuckians who are citizens could be denied benefits.

The implementation of such legislation would also cost the state money during a time of significant budget challenges. A fiscal note for similar legislation proposed in Pennsylvania in 2008 estimated that the initial cost would be at least $19 million.3 And the addition of federal citizenship documentation requirements for applicants and recipients of Medicaid through the Deficit Reduction Act of 2005 was estimated by the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform to save only 14 cents for every $100 spent by federal taxpayers to administer the requirements.4

The passage of such a bill would also reinforce inaccurate stereotypes about immigrants—for instance, that illegal immigrants are fraudulently receiving public benefits. In contrast to this widely held belief, the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform found only eight undocumented immigrants out of 3.6 million Medicaid enrollees in six states that were studied.5

  1. Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law, “Citizens Without Proof: A Survey of Americans’ Possession of Documentary Proof of Citizenship and Photo Identification,” 2006,
  2. An applicant without appropriate identification would sign an affidavit claiming either citizenship or lawful presence in the United States. Those who are U.S. citizens would then have thirty days to provide appropriate documentation. For non-citizens, applicants’ information would be submitted to the federal SAVE program (Systematic Alien Verification for Entitlements) for verification of immigration status in the United States.
  3. Vincent Rossi, Fiscal Note, March 31, 2008,
  4. Majority Staff Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, “Summary of GAO and Staff Findings,” July 24, 2007,
  5. Majority Staff Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, “Summary of GAO and Staff Findings.”

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