With the COVID-19 pandemic further stifling the efforts of California and other states to issue Real ID licenses, federal officials said Thursday they will grant a one-year extension, til Oct. 1, 2021, on the deadline for people to obtain the identification cards in order to board domestic flights in the United States.
President Trump originally announced a delay Monday during a news briefing on the nation's response to the virus. The number of confirmed cases across the U.S. now stands at nearly 70,000. The resulting public health anxiety has left many Californians reluctant or unwilling to visit local branches of the Department of Motor Vehicles for fear of being infected.
"I'm also announcing that we're postponing the deadline with Real ID requirements," Trump said during the White House event. "We will be announcing the new deadline very soon."
The president seemed to acknowledge the challenge with asking people to visit their local DMV "at a time that we're asking Americans to maintain social distancing."
On Thursday, acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf said the postponement would be for one year.
"The federal, state and local response to the spread of coronavirus here in the United States necessitates a delay in the deadline," Wolf said in a statement, adding, "We want to remove any impediment to response and recovery efforts."
Steven Gordon, director of the California DMV, said the announcement is welcome news because the agency has had to restrict visits to field offices for many people seeking driver's licenses and vehicle registrations.
"The California DMV is encouraged by the President’s remarks indicating that the federal government will extend the enforcement date for REAL ID," Gordon said in a written statement. "This would relieve the urgency for people to visit local DMV offices and bolster the state’s efforts to prevent the spread of COVID-19. We look forward to learning more about the President’s direction and sharing that information with the public."
Trump has been under pressure to postpone the Oct. 1 deadline from state officials across the country. The National Governors Assn., which includes Gov. Gavin Newsom, recently asked the Department of Homeland Security to extend the deadline by at least 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 governors said in a March 17 letter to Wolf. “More time will also give Congress the ability to pass legislation that will update the 2005 REAL ID Act and bring it up to speed with today’s technology.”
A representative for Newsom declined to comment on the extension request.
California lawmakers had already called for a delay in the Real ID deadline based on bureaucratic problems identified before COVID-19 was labeled a global pandemic.
Assemblymen Jim Frazier (D-Fairfield) and Vince Fong (R-Bakersfield), the chair and vice-chairman of the Assembly Transportation Committee, respectively, introduced a resolution asking for a delay.
“Over 7 million Californians have a Real ID and the Department of Motor Vehicles estimates that 16 million Californians will need one by October 1st of this year,” Frazier said. “That means more than twice as many people need to come into a DMV field office between now and October, than in the entire previous two years combined.”