CONCORD — New Hampshire residents who have yet to obtain Real ID licenses can rest easy as President Trump has granted an extension of an Oct. 1 deadline.
Trump said his concern over long lines at motor vehicle departments dealing with the risk of COVID-19 across the country convinced him to grant the request the National Governors Association initially made last week.
The federal law had required all citizens to obtain a Real ID license with built-in security features; those that failed to do so would be unable to board a plane or visit most federal buildings.
Larry Crowe, public information officer for the Division of Motor Vehicles, noted that the law had permitted those without the license to continue to travel freely as long as they had a passport.
Despite growth in recent years, less than half of Americans hold valid passports.
This decision became especially important for the Granite State after Gov. Chris Sununu decided to permit all residents whose licenses expire before April 30 to simply ask for and get a six-month extension of their existing licenses.
The move meant these drivers without Real ID licenses would not be able to get theirs until late September at the earliest.
Meanwhile last week, the state Division of Motor Vehicles closed several substations across the state and kept open only five locations where staff process registrations and other business by appointment, on the phone or online.
Trump said he hasn’t decided how long an extension he would approve.
“At a time when we’re asking Americans to maintain social distancing, we do not want to require people to go with their local DMV,” Trump said. “We will be announcing the new deadline very soon.”
The NGA and a bipartisan group of congressional leaders had urged Trump to push the Real ID deadline out a year to Oct. 1, 2021.
“On behalf of the nations’ governors, we urge the Department of Homeland Security to institute an extension of the REAL ID program for no less than one year,” the NGA said in a letter to Department of Homeland Security Acting Secretary Chad Wolf.
“We believe an extension will allow all of us to focus our efforts on combating the spread and severity of COVID-19. 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. This will also give DHS time to make regulatory changes.”
House Transportation and Infrastructure Chair Peter DeFazio, Committee on Homeland Security Chair Bennie Thompson, and Subcommittee on Transportation and Maritime Security Chair Lou Correa also lobbied the White House for a delay.
“While we recognize the administration’s commitment to ensuring the nation’s full compliance with the REAL ID Act, the challenges presented by the coronavirus outbreak and its impacts on the aviation industry must lead DHS to delay the October 1 implementation deadline,” the chairs said in statement.
“For implementation to go smoothly, DHS would need tens of millions of Americans to get new identifications over the next several months. Creating lines at departments of motor vehicles would be foolish during a pandemic.”
State officials have spent the past six months trying to make it easier for residents to get a Real ID license, opening some DMV offices for Real ID business only on Saturday mornings and creating a hotline to assist the public with questions about the documents they need to obtain one.
As of the end of February, less than 30% of New Hampshire motorists had obtained the license.