Obama Requests $2.8B In Emergency Funds For Haiti

President Barack Obama sent a letter (.pdf) to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) Wednesday asking the Congress “for $2.8 billion in emergency funds to provide for costs associated with relief and reconstruction for Haiti, after its devastating earthquake on January 12,” Reuters reports.

Obama “asked Congress to consider budget amendments for the departments of Agriculture, Defense, Health and Human Services, Homeland Security, State and the Treasury, as well as the U.S. Agency for International Development” to provide the funding, according to the news service. “The proposed totals for FY 2010 in my FY 2011 Budget would increase by $2.8 billion as a result of these amendments,” Obama said in the letter (3/24).

Obama requested a total of “$1.49 billion for the State Department” and USAID, according to Congressional Quarterly, which breaks down the funding request. “Most of the State Department and USAID money – $1.2 billion – would go to recovery and reconstruction programs, and $96.5 million would go to the U.N. peacekeeping mission there,” CQ writes. Obama also asked for $220 million that would be given to HHS “for health programs aimed at evacuees and earthquake survivors.” According to the news service, “With both chambers expected to leave for a two-week recess at the end of the week, Congress will probably act on the aid package next month” (Clarke, 3/24).

Obama’s “request comes a week before international donors meet at the United Nations to plot how to finance” Haiti’s reconstruction, the Miami Herald reports. “The White House said its opening bid ‘lays the foundation for the continued recovery and reconstruction in Haiti'” (Clark/Charles, 3/24).

“The request appeared to be on the high end of what lawmakers were expecting,” writes the Washington Post, adding that some of the funds would “reimburse the Defense Department and [USAID] for money they had already spent in the relief operation. Some of the money would also go toward paying back Florida and other states for providing health care to Haitian victims.” Also, some of the requested money “would set aside $212 million for a multi-donor plan to reduce Haiti’s foreign debt,” the newspaper reports. 

“This emergency funding for Haiti is a must,” according to a statement from Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.), chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee. “It’s a nonnegotiable measurement of how the United States responds to a humanitarian emergency.” Sen. Richard G. Lugar (Ind.), the top Republican on the Foreign Relations Committee, pointed out that Obama’s request did not appear to include money for education, which Lugar said was a “priority” (Sheridan, 3/24). 

“Aid organizations, which had pressed the administration to ask for $3 billion, said the request should provide a boost to Haiti’s rebuilding,” the Miami Herald reports. Mark Schneider, a former USAID official who coordinated the U.S. response to Hurricane Mitch in 1998, said, “That is a substantial opening salvo in terms of Haiti’s reconstruction and renewal” (3/24).

In related news, NPR’s “Talk of the Nation” interviews Rajiv Shah, the head of USAID, ahead of the international donor conference in New York where he will be a “key” U.S. delegate at the conference. During the show, which focused on the U.S. response in Haiti and Shah’s work at USAID, Shah highlighted some of USAID’s accomplishments and said, “[W]e’re also very, very focused on and very concerned about the upcoming priorities and challenges because the rainy season is soon upon us … And so we’re in an all-out rush to work with our international partners and with the government of Haiti to really protect and provide for those individuals in advance of what we believe will be a difficult situation” (Conan, 3/24). 

The Washington Post examines Haiti’s health system in the aftermath of the earthquake. “[A]s the immediate [health] crisis starts to wane, more and more patients with maladies unrelated to the earthquake are turning to international health-care teams led by the World Health Organization, raising concerns about Haiti’s ability to care for its own once the relief teams pull out and need for rehabilitation and long-term care grows.”

The newspaper continues, “Indisputably, international organizations are carrying the Haitian health-care system today – and will continue into the indefinite future. Many Haitian health-care providers were among the 230,000 killed in the earthquake, and others have not shown up for work, dealing with their own losses. The nursing school at the University Hospital collapsed during exams and killed essentially an entire first-year class of nursing students.” The article looks at some of the efforts to beef up Haiti’s health system and cope with earthquake survivors’ medical needs (Romano, 3/25).  

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