(Miami Herald, March 25, 2010)
Obama seeks $2.8B in aid to Haiti
Exactly one week before international donors meet to help Haiti, the president has asked Congress for $2.8 billion in aid funds.
BY LESLEY CLARK AND JACQUELINE CHARLES
WASHINGTON -- President Barack Obama is asking Congress for $2.8 billion in aid for earthquake-wracked Haiti, jump-starting a global push to raise billions of dollars for the country's reconstruction.
The request comes a week before international donors meet at the United Nations to plot how to finance a reconstruction effort that has been pegged at $11.5 billion over the next 18 months.
The funds will lay ``the foundation for the continued recovery and reconstruction in Haiti,'' said Moira Mack, a White House spokeswoman.
Aid organizations, which had pressed for $3 billion, welcomed the news.
``That is a substantial opening salvo in terms of Haiti's reconstruction and renewal,'' said Mark Schneider, a Haiti expert and former U.S. official who coordinated the response to Hurricane Mitch in 1998.
Observers say there is considerable good will in Congress for getting the request passed. Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., who chairs the Senate Foreign Relations committee, Wednesday called the emergency funding ``a must.''
The package includes money to reimburse U.S. agencies for some of the $843 million that has already been spent for relief efforts, as well as money to help Haiti rebuild its crippled government.
The package does not include direct budget support to Haiti's government as Haitian President René Préval had requested. But there is $219.9 million in debt relief and $433 million for housing, infrastructure and help restoring the country's energy, agriculture and industrial sectors.
And with 1.3 million people still homeless as the rainy season approaches, the administration is asking for $93 million to provide shelter for about 10 percent of the homeless.
There's also relief for quake victims: $72 million to help rebuild the country's shattered health system, $30 million in health care for the displaced and $8 million for rehabilitation and disability care.
The request includes $220 million to reimburse hospitals like Jackson Memorial for evacuee care. But it doesn't include reimbursements to the federal Department of Education, or to states to help cover the cost of educating Haitian children. School districts would likely be able to draw some money from funds set aside to help Haitians settle in the U.S.
South Florida school administrators worry that it may not be enough. Miami-Dade and Broward each enrolled more than 1,000 students at a cost of about $7 million.
``Federal entities need to recognize the burden on our school system,'' said Miami-Dade Superintendent Alberto Carvalho, who expects to enroll 3,000 more Haitian children in the coming school year.