The effort to get Real ID driver’s licenses and identification cards to millions of Minnesotans who still need them took a hit Tuesday as several license processing centers shut down in response to COVID-19 concerns.
Several counties and cities declared states of emergency and ended all public-facing services, including processing applications for Real ID at the counter. Closures included the Hennepin County Government Center in Minneapolis, as well as offices in Minnetonka, Roseville, Brooklyn Center and Edina. Several outstate offices, such as those in Albert Lea, Two Harbors and Pine City, also were closed.
In downtown St. Paul, where the Department of Public Safety (DPS) is headquartered, applications continued Tuesday, but the number of people admitted inside the office at 444 Minnesota Street was being limited to reduce the likelihood of community contagion.
At centers that remained open, DPS has “implemented social distancing as recommended by the CDC,” said spokesman Doug Neville.
Beginning Oct. 1, anyone 18 or older seeking to board domestic flights and enter federal facilities must have one of the federally-required ID cards. A passport or passport card or other approved form of ID also will be accepted in lieu of a Real ID.
Minnesota dragged its feet in issuing the Real ID cards, but seemed to have been gaining momentum in recent weeks. About 660,000 Minnesotans have a Real ID or Enhanced Driver’s License, double the number in September when DPS began an outreach and educational campaign.
In February alone the DPS received more than 60,000 Real ID applications. Earlier this month, DPS opened a Real ID processing center at the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport to encourage travelers to apply for Real ID on site.
Still, about 86% of Minnesotans lack a Real ID license or identification card.
That troubles Gov. Tim Walz, who said during the grand opening of the airport office that applications turned in after June 15 may not get processed in time.
Closures of in-person centers makes it more difficult to apply or finish the process, which applicants can start online and complete in-person within 30 days.
On Tuesday, Neville said the pre-application will no longer expire after 30 days.
Several officials are working to get the Oct. 1 deadline extended. On Tuesday, Larry Hogan, the chairman of the National Governors Association, asked the White House to extend the Oct. 1 deadline. Hogan, the Republican governor of Maryland, sent a letter to President Donald Trump asking that the extension be granted for all 50 states.
Hogan was joined by leaders of other states, including Pennsylvania, Oregon and Illinois, seeking a delay because of challenges presented by the novel coronavirus outbreak.
“For implementation to go smoothly, DHS [Department of Homeland Security] would need tens of millions of Americans to get new identifications over the next several months,” said Rep. Peter DeFazio, D-Ore., chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure committee, and Rep. Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., chairman of the House Homeland Security committee. “Creating lines at Departments of Motor Vehicles would be foolish during a pandemic.”
Several calls and e-mails to the Department of Homeland Security seeking comment were not immediately returned.