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Democrat Photo | Jeanne Sager

DOTTIE BOTTARO OF Liberty shows off her identification card issued a decade ago by the Sullivan County Office of the Aging. It is often the only official form of ID for many seniors, who don’t have copies of birth certificates or drivers’ licenses.

Getting Proper IDs A Problem For Seniors

By Jeanne Sager
LIBERTY — October 26, 2007 — It takes a lot to embarrass Dottie Bottaro.
But when a manager at the Wal-Mart in Monticello began pawing through her daughter-in-law’s groceries in front of the flow of customers in and out of the store, the 72-year-old was mortified.
Then she got indignant.
“They didn’t have to bring my daughter-in-law into this,” she said. “They thought we were sneaking out my groceries with hers or something.
“Who did they think I was?”
Bottaro had gathered up $68 worth of groceries for her apartment and cleaning supplies for the St. Peter’s Children’s Thrift Shop she runs for the church in Liberty.
But when she tried to hand the cashier a check to pay for the items, she was turned down.
The reason?
Bottaro doesn’t have a driver’s license.
Her only form of picture identification is a decade-old card issued by the Sullivan County Office of the Aging.
The card, she was told, is not official enough to pass muster with store rules.
Bottaro’s met the obstacle before. In fact it’s been several years since she attempted to buy her groceries at the supercenter in Monticello.
But plastered on the walls are notices that the store now takes advantage of electronic checking.
She assumed that meant the money would automatically be pulled from her account when the cashier ran her check through. She thought they’d be able to tell she had the funds to cover her purchases.
According to a representative of the First National Bank of Jeffersonville, where Bottaro keeps her money, electronic checking simply means that the check is used as a source of information by a business to make a one-time electronic fund transfer from your account.
It does not automatically remove funds from the account; instead storing the information in an electronic form so the funds can be transferred in a computer transaction when the bank is reopened.
For businesses like Wal-Mart – which required identification for every check presented – it cuts down on paperwork but not the need for that extra ID.
Orphaned at just 6 weeks old, Bottaro grew up in the foster care system.
She’s never had a driver’s license – in part because she never had the proper form of identification required by New York State to obtain one.
She doesn’t have a birth certificate.
According to Deborah Allen, assistant director of the Office for the Aging, she’s not the only one.
A growing number of senior citizens don’t have birth certificates – some were lost or destroyed over the years, others never existed because of the times and circumstances of their birth.
And many seniors in Sullivan County don’t have driver’s licenses – they’ve given them up as they’ve developed conditions that make it difficult to drive or the financial burden of a car and insurance has become too much.
That’s where the Office for the Aging ID comes in handy, Allen explained.
The office uses them to identify Sullivan County seniors who take advantage of their programs – including nutrition sites and transportation services.
For a suggested $5 fee, the office supplies a laminated card with the senior’s photo, name and the signature of Office for the Aging Director James Lyttle.
Tagged as “official identification,” the card dubs the person named as a “senior citizen of Sullivan County.”
The office requires proof of age – the cards are only available to residents 60 and up – but they’re accustomed to accepting baptismal certificates in place of a traditional birth certificate.
Also required is proof of residence – a property tax bill, voter identification or apartment lease.
Handed out to more than 22,000 seniors in Sullivan County over the years, Allen said the card has become a lifeline for the folks who use them.
“I know for a fact that it’s been used for identification all over the country,” she explained. “Before 9/11, they were even accepted at airports.”
Bottaro used hers to cash a check at a Piggly Wiggly in South Carolina, where she said the cashiers couldn’t be more friendly.
Allen said the next option is a non-driver’s identification card issued by the New York State Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV).
To get that, seniors need to present various forms of identification assigned “points” by the DMV.
A social security card, for example, is the equivalent of two points.
Six points are required for a non-driver’s ID, said Deputy County Clerk Moniquka Diaz-Corley, and that includes proof of birthdate.
The DMV calls for a passport or birth certificate, but the lack of birth certificate for older residents is an issue kicking around Albany, Diaz-Corley said.
“It’s become a growing issue,” she noted. “There’s hasn’t been a determination yet of an age for a person not to have to provide a birth certificate.
“Right now we’re going on a case by case basis,” she continued. “We have to contact Albany when someone doesn’t have a birth certificate. They usually have been pretty good about it.”
That’s next on Bottaro’s list.
But she doesn’t drive, and her family members all work during the week.
Taking the bus to Monticello claims eight hours out of her day – and requires a walk downtown to the bus station from her apartment near the church.
Still recovering from double knee surgeries, Bottaro said she made the trek once only to find she didn’t have enough forms of identification.
It’s the knee surgery that’s made this so much harder on Bottaro – she had to do her shopping all over again.
But her concern extends to other seniors because Wal-Mart is one of the cheapest options for folks on fixed incomes.
That’s why she wants to buy her groceries there, but also why she tries to stock up at the discount store for the thrift shop. Running a charity, Bottaro said, means trying to get the best bang for your buck.
Her next option is a debit card. Bottaro called the Liberty branch of the Jeff Bank as soon as the bank reopened after her Wal-Mart troubles.
She had several hundred dollars in the bank – enough to cover the $68 and then some.
They told her the debit card would allow her to use her checking account without presenting ID – and they’re accepted at any location that processes Master Card.
It’s an option for a number of seniors, although Diaz-Corley said identification becomes an issue again for anyone wanting to open a bank account.
“You can’t do anything without photo ID anymore,” she said. “[The non-driver’s ID] is not even so much a senior thing anymore – it’s become more global.”
What exists is a Catch-22 for Bottaro and seniors in her position.
The Office of the Aging has appealed to Wal-Mart for its seniors – and they hope other Sullivan businesses are aware of the geriatric plight.
Contacted several times, the media department at Wal-Mart’s headquarters did not return calls for comment.
Allen said they have been told it is a nationwide policy – not something specific to Monticello.

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