OAKLAND -- Oakland will soon be following in San Francisco's footsteps by offering a new municipal identification card to homeless people, immigrants and other residents who might have trouble obtaining a state identification card.

But Oakland's ID card will double as an ATM debit card, the first of its kind in the country. The ATM debit card can be used to buy groceries or goods and services wherever ATM cards are welcome, allowing people without bank accounts to avoid high check-cashing fees or walking around with large amounts of cash.

Councilmember Ignacio De La Fuente has been trying to get an ID card system for Oakland residents since the state rejected efforts to issue drivers licenses to illegal immigrants in 2004.

The City Council voted in June 2009 to issue municipal identification cards and issued a request for proposals. On Nov. 9, the council voted to accept the bid of SF Mexico Services LLC to administer the program and issue the ID/debit cards at no cost to the city.

"I think we have a responsibility to provide local access and represent everyone," said De La Fuente, who along with Mayor-elect Jean Quan co-authored the ordinance last year. "We have to provide some way for people to identify themselves so that people don't get arrested. "... We have to move forward with the card and not delay further."

So far, the cities of San Francisco, New Haven, Conn., Trenton, N.J., and Washington, D.C., have municipal identification cards. None have a full ATM/debit feature, although Washington's card can be loaded with value to use on the Metro system, and New Haven's card can be loaded with up to $300 value that can be used at participating merchants and at parking meters.

City Clerk LaTonda Simmons said the group that studied the ID card issue and helped craft the request for proposals will meet again early next month to finalize the contract details and develop a timeline for implementation.

The company predicts it will issue about 30,000 cards a year, processed through five intake centers set up around the city, said Elias Enciso, director of business development for SF Mexico. The company will set up the infrastructure with community-based organizations to accept and process applications and issue the cards, as well as establish the banking relationship to support the cards. He said the program could be up and running within three months once there is a signed contract.

A group headed by Wilson Riles advocated for a local currency feature for Oakland's program. It is not included, but the feature could be added to the card at a later date if the city wants it, Enciso said.

The company already offers debit cards and it won the contract to issue ATM debit cards to youth working for the Los Angeles summer jobs program. This is its first ID card contract.

The cards can be replenished with cash or checks or even set up to receive direct deposits from the cardholder's job.

There is a setup fee: $15 for adults or $10 for seniors and youth, plus an extra $6.95 to add the debit card feature; a $2.95 reload fee for non-direct deposits; and a 99-cent monthly maintenance fee. Even so, the amounts are minuscule compared to hefty fees charged by check cashing stores. And cardholders can avoid ATM transaction fees by using the cash-back feature when shopping at grocery stores or other merchants.

SF Mexico will cover operational costs through the sale of the cards and the user fees will help sustain the growth of the company. But the firm isn't in it for the money, Enciso said.

"We are a social enterprise company, meaning that our main priority is to maximize social good to the community," Enciso said. "One of our principles is that businesses can provide financial services to underserved communities without price gouging."

Card holders are issued an account number and password, which they can use to obtain balance and transaction information via a toll-free phone number or online. They can view all their transactions, similar to a bank statement, for no charge.

To obtain a city ID card, applicants must provide one picture identification such as a driver's license, passport, green card or consular card. Applicants who don't have a driver's license need two pieces of identification such as a foreign driver's license, a Social Security card, a U.S. or foreign birth certificate, a military identification card or school identification.

Minors don't need photo ID, but they must have some sort of documentation either from a school or shelter.

Applicants must also prove residency by providing recent utility bills, tax bills, pay stub, jury summons or tax refund statement, among other items.

The municipal identification cards will supply the same type of information contained on a driver's license or state identification card, including name, address, date of birth, height, weight, eye and hair color and photograph. The card must be accepted as a valid form of identification at all city departments, including the police department.

Miguel Robles, founder of the Latino American Alliance for Immigration Rights, was behind the push to get San Francisco to launch a municipal ID card program in response to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement raids in 2007.

Several people caught in the raids were deported because they had no state-issued identification, Robles said.

The cards offer some measure of security in that San Francisco police accept the cards as proof of residency and the cardholders are more comfortable reporting crimes, Robles said. Cardholders also get all the benefits of other San Francisco residents, such as free resident days at the San Francisco Zoo and coverage under the city's health care program.

"You can get one if you are here illegally, if you are a resident of the city and are paying taxes and living here and spending money here," Robles said, describing the San Francisco program. "I'm very excited to have the program now in Oakland, too."

Enciso agreed that the cards give residents a sense of security they would not otherwise have.

"It's in the absolute best interest of all Oakland residents, regardless of immigration status, that everyone has identification," Enciso said. "It increases safety. What we saw in New Haven is that reporting of crimes went up 22 percent, primarily because people had a form of ID."

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