Municipal IDs to Offer Free Membership to Museums, Zoos

Councilman Danny Dromm at an I.D. card rally. (Photo: Kelly Weill)

Councilman Danny Dromm at an I.D. card rally. (Photo: Kelly Weill)

Signing up for the city’s new municipal identification card will come with the perk of free yearlong memberships to cultural institutions around the city — including the Bronx Zoo, where Mayor Bill de Blasio announced the initiative this afternoon.

“That is a really good deal,” Mr. de Blasio offered in a bit of a sales pitch, standing alongside a statue of rhinoceros at the zoo, where an annual membership costs $75 for an individual (without parking).

The zoo is one of 33 privately run cultural institutions on city land across all give boroughs that will offer free membership and other discounts to those who sign up for the identification card. 

The incentives come after some expressed concern documented New Yorkers would not see a reason to sign up for the IDs, or that undocumented immigrants would fear doing so due to concerns they could be targeted for deportation. 

“It speaks to the universal nature of this as something that New Yorkers are going to want. So many New Yorkers do not have ID — I keep emphasizing we are not a city of drivers,” Mr. de Blasio said.

While the main focus of the ID program has been undocumented immigrants, Mr. de Blasio has also said the program will benefit older New Yorkers and those who don’t drive, and said the city plans to fold other types of IDs into this one going forward. 

Still, what the IDs will mean to immigrant families remained a strong focus of the event today.

“These New Yorkers are our neighbors, our friends, our family, our coworkers,” Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito said. “They send their kids to school and contribute to New York in various ways, so truly this will be an ID for all.”

Ms. Mark-Viverito said in addition to providing an ID to those who have not had it before — which will enable them to do things like open bank accounts — the ID card will now also allow people access to the museums, zoos, ballets and other cultural opportunities that were present in her childhood but are less available to those who are “disenfranchised.”

And in further touting the benefits of the card, which was outlined in his State of the City address, Mr. de Blasio said he believed the program would help along another one of his other signature initiatives — improving the relationship between the police and community.

“When they have an interaction with a resident, it begins with asking for ID,” he said of the police. “If you have that ID, it’s very different reality than if you don’t.”

When the legislation to was passed, benefits at cultural institutions were promised but there were few details about what exactly they might be — just as details on many other aspects of how the cards might work were vague.

“There were those who said we would not get the benefits we wanted attached to this,” Councilman Daniel Dromm, a co-sponsor of the legislation, noted.

But plenty of questions about the IDs still remain — including what documentation will be required to receive them and whether financial institutions will accept them to grant bank accounts or other services that were key to the argument the cards were necessary.

Mr. de Blasio told the Observer the process of determining what would be needed to prove identity and residency had been a thorough one that involved the NYPD, and Immigrant Affairs Commissioner Nisha Agarwal said draft rules would be up for comment soon.

“There will be a public hearing in early October to discuss things like what documents you need to bring to be able to show identify, residency, and what are some of the other rules and details of this program,” Ms. Agarwal told the Observer.

As for getting banks to accept the cards, Ms. Agarwal said progress was being made there, too.

“We’re in active conversations with the financial institutions as well as with their regulators to hopefully be able to announce soon enough the commitment of financial institutions participating with the municipal ID as well,” Ms. Agarwal said.

Municipal IDs to Offer Free Membership to Museums, Zoos