ALBANY — The Oct. 1 deadline for travelers to obtain REAL ID-compliant driver’s licenses in order to board domestic and international flights will be moved because of the COVID-19 virus, President Donald Trump said Monday,
The president made his announcement just hours after Rep. Tom Suozzi introduced a bill to delay the program by a year.
"At a time where we're asking Americans to maintain social distancing, we do not want to require people to go to their local DMV," Trump said, referring to the state Department of Motor Vehicles. "We will be announcing the new deadline very soon."
The bill introduced Monday by Suozzi (D-Glen Cove) would extend the deadline to Sept. 30, 2021, because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Republican Sen. Steve Daines of Montana sponsors a similar bill in the Republican-controlled Senate that also seeks a one-year delay.
The REAL ID-compliant license, also known as an “enhanced license” in New York, requires passport-level information to confirm citizenship or legal residency. It was a recommendation of the 9/11 Commission to combat terrorism. The license will also be required for border crossings and access to federal buildings. However, the COVID-19 virus has closed or reduced the hours and staffing in the state Department of Motor Vehicles and many county offices that administer the program.
“We just need to take things off the table,” Suozzi said Monday. “There are literally hundreds of moving pieces all the time … and this just seemed clear to us as we saw people showing up at the DMV and they weren’t social distancing.”
In February, Daines wrote Trump that, despite efforts by workers in his state, “large numbers of Montanans will not have Real ID compliant identification by the October 2020 deadline.”
Suozzi said motor vehicles offices are quickly getting backlogged because driver’s licenses and registrations expire for large number of New Yorkers each month.
“We all have to do our part, a little here, a little there,” Suozzi said. “Right now, there is an urgent need to protect peoples’ health.
Last week, the National Governors Association asked the federal government to delay the REAL ID deadline “for no less than one year.
“We believe an extension will allow all of us to focus our efforts on combating the spread and severity of COVID-19,” the association stated in a letter to the federal Department of Homeland Security "… this will also give DHS time to make regulatory changes.”
The governors said the REAL ID program must be updated with emerging technology and, among other things, provide “an exception process for older applicants and vetted populations.” Suozzi said he supports that recommendation, too. He cited a recent Newsday story about the case of Laura Siegelman, 73, of Plainview, who hasn’t been granted a REAL ID license despite receiving her green card in 1948 when her parents left a post-World War II settlement camp in Germany.