Cook County Clerk’s office: David Orr lauds legislation making birth records free of charge for homeless, domestic violence victims, formerly incarcerated

Editor’s Note: Chicago Coalition for the Homeless advocated for this measure with Mr. Orr’s office, and a similar bill to assist homeless people statewide, House Bill 3060.

Cook County Clerk David Orr on Wednesday commended the Cook County Board of Commissioners for their passage of legislation that removes the fees for birth certificates from his office for homeless residents, domestic violence victims living in shelters and recently released inmates.

Orr worked with legislation sponsors Commissioners Larry Suffredin, John P. Daley, and Robert Steele on the amendment to the ordinance detailing Clerk’s Vital Records fees. The County Board approved the measure at their Wednesday meeting.

The amendment to the Vital Records fees ordinance states that homeless Cook County residents or not-for-profit organizations representing them, individuals who have been released from the state Department of Corrections or the Cook County Department of Corrections in the past 90 days and individuals residing in domestic violence shelters, “may receive a copy of their birth record at no cost.”

“This takes an often insurmountable financial burden off the shoulders of those least able to pay,” Orr said. “For those who are homeless, in transitional housing, or who have escaped domestic abuse situations, having a copy of their birth certificate is needed, but their immediate priorities may be to find basic necessities, like shelter and food.

Now, they do not have to worry about how to pay for these records, which can be instrumental in helping them take their next steps in life, like getting identification. With their birth records in-hand, people are able to focus on the challenges of finding work or housing. Removing this barrier is not only good government, but it’s just good for society,” Orr added.

One agency the Clerk’s office worked with on the legislation was the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless, which was paying the $15 birth certificate fee for each homeless person, out of the non-profit’s budget. 

A state law passed in 2016 directed the Secretary of State’s office to issue a state ID to inmates at the time of release, but in order to get their ID card the inmates must present documents that include a birth certificate, which still had a fee. Today’s County Board action removes the financial obstacle for the formerly incarcerated in Cook County to obtain a copy of their birth certificate as long as it’s received within 90 days of their release.