The federal Department of Homeland Security has extended the deadline for using the specially encrypted Real ID card to enter most federal buildings and to pass through airport security to May 2023.

Until last week, the deadline to begin using the voluntary card had been Oct. 1, but the agency said it extended the deadline again because the pandemic has made it difficult for people to get out to apply for the cards and for some states to issue the cards.

“Protecting the health, safety, and security of our communities is our top priority,” Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said in a news release. “As our country continues to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic, extending the REAL ID full enforcement deadline will give states needed time to reopen their driver’s licensing operations and ensure their residents can obtain a REAL ID-compliant license or identification card.”

The federal government ordered states to begin issuing encrypted driver’s licenses and identification cards in 2005 in response to the 9/11 attacks to make it difficult to make counterfeit copies. But some states, including Pennsylvania, refused to comply until the agency set a deadline for compliance, after which people without Real ID cards, military ID or a valid passport would be refused entry to most federal buildings and airport security.

Pennsylvania began issuing the cards in March 2019 after the state spent months upgrading facilities at some centers that issue driver’s licenses and creating others especially to handle issuing Real ID cards. At that time, the deadline was Oct. 1, 2020, but that was extended for one year when the pandemic closed many license centers for months for social distancing.

Pennsylvania resumed issuing Real ID cards in September after a delay of five months. So far, the state has issued about 1.1 million Real ID licenses and ID cards, Diego Sandino, a spokesman for the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation, said Tuesday.

The new date for federal enforcement of Real ID is May 3, 2023. People who don’t plan to travel or go into a federal building do not have to have the special cards.

In a news release, the National Governors Association called the extension “welcome news.”

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