Complying with Real ID requirements sends many on a paper chase
For George Capek, driving is his livelihood.
So, Capek, a North Adams school bus driver, figured he'd get a head start on renewing his commercial driver's license, which doesn't expire until September.
Good thing. When he got to the Registry of Motor Vehicles, he was told he'd need a copy of his birth certificate to comply with strict new document requirements.
In his case, that was no easy matter.
Turns out, Capek's birth certificate was sealed because, as a teenager, a name change he filed in New York was never actually completed.
He was told he'd have to change his name here in Massachusetts, and send proof of the change to New York. He expects to have his birth certificate by the end of June.
"I understand the desire to do this and what it's for," he said of the new requirements. "[But] it's a whole lot of digging for things that you may not be able to find."
The changes are associated with the state's compliance with the federal Real ID Act of 2005, which aims to set standards that states must meet when issuing official identification cards and driver's licenses. A Real ID driver's license will be necessary to board any domestic flight beginning in October 2020, but the state began issuing the new licenses in March.
While residents still have the option to get a standard driver's license — a Real ID license has an additional star at the upper right-hand corner — anyone renewing a license now must comply with the document requirements associated with Real ID.
For weeks, confusion has marked the Real ID rollout, as residents arrived at RMV branches across the state to learn that they lacked proper documents.
"It's crazy," said Rick Zamberletti of the Real ID program as he sat waiting on a bench at the RMV.
He listed possible documents to get a Real ID — a birth certificate, Social Security card and a tax form.
"I think I got everything," he said.
But sometimes, even the right documents weren't enough. Lamination is out. And a birth certificate must be an original.
"We've had issues where people go to a registry center and don't bring the required documents," said Jacquelyn Goddard, communications director for the Massachusetts Department of Transportation. "They're not aware of the federal requirements."
Per-customer transaction time is higher because of the new requirements, Goddard said.
In the first two weeks after the rollout of Real ID and new standard license requirements, wait times at RMV locations increased to four to five hours for some people, Goddard said.
Boston RMV locations had some of the longest wait times overall.
In April, about 66 percent of wait times were less than 60 minutes; 44 percent were less than 30 minutes. But 34 percent were more than an hour.
Goddard recommends that people go online to see what they need to bring.
To acquire either license, an applicant now must provide documentation in three separate categories: a Social Security number, proof of U.S. residency and date of birth (typically, a birth certificate or passport) and proof of state residency, such as a utility bill or a pay stub.
The new requirements had one local man driving illegally, without a way out in the near future.
He said he went to the RMV around the time his license was expiring, unaware that even simple renewals now have documentation requirements.
He was told he needed a birth certificate, which he soon found out could take months to get.
In the meantime, he has been driving illegally for about three weeks.
"I'm trying to minimize my driving to the absolute minimum," said the man, who asked The Eagle not to use his name because of his illegal driving. "I don't want to press my luck."
For some, luck did not hold.
Mike Cachat said he recently tried to get a Real ID.
He provided his license, passport, Social Security card and U.S. Army retired identification, among other documents.
But it wasn't enough. His Social Security card was laminated, which is unacceptable for Real ID purposes. It had been laminated for years.
Then and now
Before the advent of the Real ID program in Massachusetts, residents with valid licenses could go to an RMV branch with their license and pay a fee to renew. But that's not an option anymore.
Renewals of a standard driver's license or ID card can be completed online by entering a valid document number associated with a U.S. passport or birth certificate, according to MassDOT.
In this case, the documents don't have to be originals.
But first-time customers and anyone seeking a Real ID must complete the transaction in person.
Lawmakers suggest that the state could have done more to help people prepare for the new rules.
State Rep. John Barrett III, D-North Adams, said his office recently has fielded a few complaints about the Real ID program.
"It seems to be very time-consuming, from the few complaints that we've gotten so far," he said.
These complaints run the gamut from the computer systems breaking down to long waits.
Barrett said his office was seeking information from the RMV.
"We ourselves are trying to get educated on it, and what the problems are," he said.
The state needs to put out more information about what's required for various RMV transactions, including the Real ID program, said state Rep. William "Smitty" Pignatelli, D-Lenox.
"I don't think people know what information to bring for the Real ID, what documentation," he said. "I think the RMV's got to wake up and educate people so there's not as much frustration."
Additional restrictions are in place regarding documents that can be accepted for Real ID, licenses, ID cards and learner's permits.
Even passports have restrictions: Those issued within the last six months are not acceptable for documentation purposes.
This is because U.S. passports must be vetted using the federal U.S. passport verification system, which cannot verify recently obtained new passports.
A single document also cannot be used to satisfy multiple requirements, and all documents must be originals.
Documents to prove Social Security status include: a Social Security card, a W-2 form or a pay stub with the applicant's name and Social Security number on it.
A birth certificate or certificate of naturalization are among the options to prove legal ability to be in the country or date of birth.
The third requirement to prove Massachusetts residency accepts various documents, including a current lease or mortgage and certain bills dated within 60 days.
A post office box is not considered acceptable to establish proof of residency.
People with a different name than the one that appears on their lawful presence document must prove the legal name change for a Real ID.
Proof consists of a marriage license, divorce decree or court document.
Name-change documents are not required for a standard license, ID card or learner's permit renewal.
The requirement to prove name changes has the potential to affect many people, especially married women. In recent years, about 68 percent of women took a husband's last name at their first or only marriage, according to a Google consumer survey.
If a person has an active valid ID and wants a Real ID, it will cost $25, Goddard said.
Otherwise, it costs $50 to get a Real ID — the same price as a standard license renewal.
Licenses that are not in compliance with Real ID will remain valid for driving purposes, but federal officials will stop recognizing them Oct. 1, 2020.
In all, 29 states comply with Real ID requirements, including Vermont, Connecticut and New York.
Patricia LeBoeuf can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, at @BE_pleboeuf on Twitter and 413-496-6247.
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