Oct. 1, 2020 marks a strict deadline. After that date, Alaskans will need federally acceptable identification to board commercial airlines, access military bases, and enter federal facilities. These IDs can include passports, federally recognized tribal IDs, and REAL ID-compliant licenses or identifications. Getting a REAL ID isn’t easy for people living in rural communities, but one rural city is doing everything it can to get REAL IDs for its residents.
Toksook Bay sits on the coast of the Bering Sea. The nearest Division of Motor Vehicle office is in Bethel, a $190 plane ticket away. In January, Susie Carl is scheduled to bring her foster son to Bethel for a medical appointment, and she’s hoping she can fit in a visit to the DMV while she’s in town.
“It’s hard,” she said, thinking about her upcoming trip, “because you have to rush to get to the appointment, and go back up to the airport and wait.”
There will be a slim window for Carl to make it to the DMV counter during her day trip to Bethel. It’s a window that a number of factors could close: if the medical appointment is running late, if there’s a long line at the DMV, or if the one person who works the Bethel DMV doesn’t show up to the office that day. On top of that, the cost of cab fare to get around town adds up.
Because of this expense and inconvenience, the Toksook Bay City Council voted to bring the DMV to its community.
“We’re trying to get them ready so they’ll be able to use their ID to make sure they’ll be able get on the plane, probably to go hospital or for business,” explained Toksook Bay City Council member Mary Kailukiak.
She says that the reason she has not gotten her REAL ID yet is because she doesn’t have a birth certificate. It’s another hurdle in the process. Getting a REAL ID can require up to six different documents. If you’re missing one, then it’s better luck next time. If you live in a village, that next time might be a while away.
The Toksook Bay City Council is taking a lot on. About 650 people live in the community, and anyone of any age can get a REAL ID. The city is making a list of every resident who wants one, and of those people, who needs a birth certificate, a social security card, or both. The city will pay the $30 fee for a birth certificate application, which can take a month to process, and the city will help people file the paperwork for a social security card. All other documents, like a marriage certificate to prove a name change, residents will need to get on their own.
Once all that’s done, the city will schedule a time for the DMV to travel to Toksook Bay. The city will be required to pay the DMV workers' airfare, lodging, miscellaneous travel expenses, like airport parking, and per diem, which totals $45 on travel days and $60 on non-travel days. Also, the city will need to provide the DMV workers with a good internet connection and a well-lit area to take photos.
Acting DMV Director Jenna Wamsganz explains what the process will look like on the ground: “They would just meet with residents, take a look at their documents, process their applications, take their photos. We have a way to retain the documents for our system, and then we would take that information back, process the applications, and then the residents should expect to receive their REAL IDs in the mail a few weeks later.”
Wamsganz estimates that one DMV worker can process 50 REAL ID applications a day in a community. Each REAL ID driver’s license costs $40. The DMV is asking for donations and seeking financial partnerships with Native corporations and Native nonprofits to travel to as many rural communities as possible to provide these services. When asked if it’s fair to ask rural entities to subsidize a state service that’s readily offered in urban areas, Wamzgans says that’s a state policy issue.
“The DMV is trying to do the best job that they can to make it to all the communities that they can, and we do have hub locations throughout Alaska,” Wamsganz said. “But it’s just not feasible for us to have offices in every single location.”
Toksook Bay is one community that is stepping up to help.