U.S. Department of Transportation officials said Wednesday that Alabama has agreed to expand driver’s license office hours after determining that black residents in the state were disproportionately hurt by a slate of closures and reductions in 2015. The federal agency launched an investigation last year after Alabama, citing budget concerns, shuttered 31 part-time offices where examiners gave driving tests about once per week. The state said the closures were aimed at the offices that issued the fewest licenses each year, but the closures also came down hard on rural and heavily minority communities. It left more than a third of Alabama’s 67 counties without a license office, including eight of the state’s 11 counties with a majority African-American population.
“DMVs play a critical role in the day-to-day functioning of the American people, including ensuring their ability to drive to work and other essential services and to get proper identification needed to vote or open a bank account. No one should be prevented from accessing these services based on their race, color or national origin,” U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said in a statement.
A section of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits discrimination in programs that receive federal funds and compliance “is not optional,” Foxx said.
The federal agency said its investigation revealed that African-Americans residing in the state’s Black Belt — a region that took its name from the darkly rich soil but is also home to many majority-black communities — are disproportionately underserved by the state’s driver license services, causing a disparate and adverse impact on the basis of race.