Social Security Administration Complicates the Ability for People to Get Identification

By Laura Dunson

 For individuals trying to get a social security card or number print out, they may run into the Social Security Catch-22. The Social Security webpage states that if you want a card, you need to have original documents proving your identity, age, and U.S. citizenship—documents such as birth certificates, photo IDs, or Drivers Licenses or passports. The catch comes with the fact that you need your social security number to initially get the documents that will allow you to get a social security card.

 This confusing and frustrating cycle means that many people are completely unable to get the document that our government says is required for so many things—a problem that has even the United States Interagency Council on Homelessness looking for an answer. They and many others are trying to find acceptable ways for people to get out of this catch and into secure documentation.

 Eileen Kelly of St. Colman’s Church and founder of the Cleveland ID Crisis Collaborative explains that there are other documents that can help you at the BMV or while getting a social security card (a complete list can be found at She says, “Now, I know it is not likely that they will have a Pilot’s license, but they may have a DD214 Veteran’s discharge or might be able to get a copy of their Marriage License for $2 at Probate Court (” However, these are tangible steps that many can take to find ways out of this unjust cycle.

 In other situations, additional documentation has worked as well. A local shelter group signed a letter in their letterhead verifying a person’s identity, which allowed them to go through with the documentation process—however, we are not sure if this will be a regularly acceptable.

 Kelly continues in her e-mail to the other social service providers,  “And we know that these stricter policies will continue to be thrown at us until some brilliant person comes up with a way for people to prove their own identities without documents that cost money or require access and resources that people who are poor do not have.”  Until then, the social service providers will try to find ways to help anyone struggling to find documentation and challenge the system that enforces this catch 22 in which one federal agency is requiring state agencies to blink first.  Which agency will allow an individual to swear a statement that they are who they say they are (as had been done in the past) and give them the document that they are requesting to get the other forms of identification?

Without identification a person cannot work, get into housing, receive non-emergency healthcare, or even vote.  According to homeless advocates in Cleveland, this decision will only lengthen the time a person spends without housing and in need a charity care.   

 Copyright Cleveland Street Chronicle August 2013 Cleveland, Ohio