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 estimated to cost as much as $11.5 billion. More than 200,000 people died in the Jan. 12 earthquake.
The White House said its opening bid "lays the foundation for the continued recovery and reconstruction in Haiti."
Aid organizations, which had pressed the administration to ask for $3 billion, said the request should provide a boost to Haiti's rebuilding.
"That is a substantial opening salvo in terms of Haiti's reconstruction and renewal," said Mark Schneider, a former U.S. Agency for International Development official who coordinated the U.S. response to Hurricane Mitch in 1998.
Observers say there is considerable goodwill in Congress for getting the legislation passed. Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Wednesday called the emergency funding "a must."
"It's a non-negotiable measurement of how the United States responds to a humanitarian emergency," Kerry said.
The package includes money to reimburse U.S. agencies some of the $843 million that already has been spent for relief efforts, as well as money to help Haiti rebuild its crippled government infrastructure: from putting police back on the streets to paying for eight U.S. Treasury Department employees who are to help the Haitian government restore its ability to collect taxes and to budget.
The package doesn't include direct budget support to Haiti's government, as Haitian President Rene Preval had requested in a visit to the White House earlier this month. There is, however, $219 million in debt relief and $433 million for housing, infrastructure and help restoring the country's energy, agriculture and industrial sectors.
The package also asks for $144 million for justice reform, including $24 million for the Haitian Coast Guard and for Haiti's U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration-led police narcotics and anti-money laundering unit. It calls for $45 million for the U.N. stabilization mission to provide police and corrections advisers.
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 to the victims of the quake: $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 for earthquake victims.
Congress isn't likely to consider the request until it returns from a weeklong Easter recess that starts next week.
Broadly, the request includes: $1.5 billion to the State Department and USAID for relief, recovery and reconstruction needs; $150 million for emergency food aid; $655 million to reimburse the Defense Department; $220 million to the Department of Health and Human Services; $60 million to the Department of Homeland Security for costs associated with adoptions; and $48 million to provide employment for public works, debris removal, school construction, flood management and community infrastructure projects.
The package doesn't include assistance for education instruction, which the ranking Republican on the Senate Foreign Affairs committee, Sen. Richard Lugar of Indiana, had asked the administration to consider.
(Charles reports for the Miami Herald.)
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