HUDSON — Department of Motor Vehicle offices across the state have suspended many of their services but may still be helping with special situations.
New York State DMV Commissioner Mark Schroeder issued a notice on March 23 extending all driver licenses, learner permits, non-driver identification cards and vehicle registrations scheduled to expire on or after March 1, 2020 until further notice.
Schroeder said additionally, all dealer temporary registration documents remain valid until further notice, rather than expiring after 45 days as usual.
The extensions do not apply to insurance coverage, which must be maintained during the extensions. Vehicle inspections are also not included in the extension.
The DMV closed to the public on March 23.
Columbia County Clerk Holly Tanner continues to assist residents while the Columbia County DMV is closed.
Services are available on a limited basis, Tanner said. She is available Mondays through Thursdays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. for people to drop off documents for limited vehicular transactions.
“I am trying to help people with their DMV needs, yes,” Tanner said. “We are unable to do any in-office transactions, no licenses, no permits, no permit testing of any kind, no license upgrades. But there are limited vehicle transactions that we can help people with.”
While some of these transactions can be done by mail, it is easier to drop off in case there is an issue with paperwork, Tanner said.
Tanner said while there have been long lines outside the DMV, everyone in the line is wearing a mask and staying six feet apart.
“Unfortunately, I don’t anticipate that we’ll be reopening anytime soon,” Tanner said.
Reopening the state’s DMV offices poses its own concerns, as Gov. Andrew Cuomo plans to reopen by region. Tanner said she will be speaking with Lieutenant Gov. Kathleen Hochul later Friday to get clarifcation on reopening state government offices.
Government entities were not specifically addressed in any of the phases, Tanner said, and she is advocating that the reopening of government offices not be regionalized.
“We can’t work from home,” Tanner said. “Everything that we have to do is in-office. We can’t do DMV at home and can’t record documents at home...We’re alternating shifts for people to come in and work.”
The DMV and records department are preparing to reopen, although there is no date at this time. Preparations include making six-foot spaces, installing plexiglass shields and providing staff with face masks and gloves.
“I feel very comfortable with the job that the county’s doing in regards to the ability of my staff to perform their jobs,” Tanner said.
The executive order that closed DMV and county clerk offices expires on May 15, but that does not mean they will be able to reopen on the May 18.
“Why the DMV isn’t essential is a little bit of a question,” Tanner said. “Because it is essential in upstate New York. People don’t have public transportation. There’s no subway system. You could walk, I suppose, 20 miles to your job, but you’ll be exhausted when you get there.”
Tanner said she has everyone from CDL drivers to 16-year-olds wanting to take permit tests.
If DMVs resume business in areas that meet the criteria to reopen, but not statewide, people could travel there from other parts of the state, potentially spreading the disease and overcrowding rural offices.
Tanner is considering going to an appointment system to prevent a “mad rush” to the DMV once it reopens.
“Most of the clerks have been thinking very seriously about how we’re going to serve the public and do it to follow the CDC’s guidelines and the governor’s guidelines,” Tanner said.
The Greene County DMV in Catskill remains closed to the public, but is staffed Monday through Wednesday. The office will continue to accept DMV mail and transactions, as well as dealer work, at the backdoor drop box, according to the website.
The office is alternating staff and is running at about 25% capacity, Greene County Legislature Chairman Patrick Linger, R-New Baltimore, said.
“They’re doing any online transactions, they’re doing any weekend business that came in through that method, and then we have drop boxes at the lower entrance to our county office building where people can get their forms, they can drop their paperwork off in a drop box, and then DMV calls them when it’s ready to be picked back up,” Linger said.
The DMV is an essential service in rural areas, Linger said.
“We prefer that they use their county DMV office rather than going on and doing things online,” Linger said. “That issue revolves around the amount of revenue that comes back to the county for any of that business we do as opposed to the state getting all the revenue when someone does it online.”
While it’s only 12.5%, Linger said the revenue gained by using the local DMV office is a “far cry from zero.”
It is impossible for departments like Social Services and the DMV to work from home because they are linked to a state system in order to do a lot of the paperwork, Linger said.
“There’s limited things that they can accomplish,” Linger said.
The Department of Homeland Security announced March 26 that the deadline for New Yorkers to upgrade to REAL ID was extended one year to Oct. 1, 2021.
“The federal, state and local response to the spread of the coronavirus here in the United States necessitates a delay in this deadline,” Acting Secretary Chad Wolf said in a statement.
The 2005 REAL ID Act established minimum security standards for state-issued driver licenses, permits and ID cards. The Act also prohibits federal agencies, like the Transportation Security Administration, from officially accepting cards from states that don’t meet the standards.
New York State DMV started issuing REAL IDs Oct. 30, 2017.
“States across the country are temporarily closing or restricting access to DMVs,” Wolf said. “This action will preclude millions of people from applying for and receiving their REAL ID. Extending the deadline will also allow the department to work with Congress to implement needed changes to expedite the issuance of REAL IDs once the current health crisis concludes.”
Abby Hoover is a reporter for Columbia-Greene Media. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.