Coburn Holding Up Millions Of Dollars In Aid For Haiti Earthquake Survivors Over Obscure Objection

Last spring, the United States pledged nearly $1.2 billion in emergency aid to Haiti following its tragic earthquake that left hundreds of thousands of people dead and many more homeless.

Yet the Associated Press (AP) reports today that “not a cent of the $1.15 billion the U.S. promised for rebuilding has arrived” to Haitians who badly the need the aid. This summer, both the House and the Senate passed a bill that would make $917 million available for Haiti reconstruction aid. Yet Congress must also pass an authorization bill that directs exactly how the money will be spent, and thus far, the U.S. Senate has failed to do.

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The AP conducted its own investigation of why the Senate has failed to pass the authorization bill, and it discovered that a single senator “pulled it for further study.” After calling dozens of senators’ offices, the AP discovered that the senator holding up the bill is Tom Coburn (R-OK). Coburn spokeswoman Becky Berhardt explained that the reason he is holding up the bill is because he objects to the creation of a senior Haiti coordinator — a position that would cost a paltry $5 million over five years — when the United States currently has an ambassador to the country:

Now the authorization bill that would direct how the aid is delivered remains sidelined by a senator who anonymously pulled it for further study. Through calls to dozens of senators’ offices, the AP learned it was Sen. Tom Coburn, a Republican from Oklahoma. “He is holding the bill because it includes an unnecessary senior Haiti coordinator when we already have one” in U.S. Ambassador Kenneth Merten, Coburn spokeswoman Becky Bernhardt said.

The bill proposes a new coordinator in Washington who would not oversee U.S. aid but would work with the USAID administrator in Washington to develop a rebuilding strategy. The position would cost $1 million a year for five years, including salaries and expenses for a staff of up to seven people.

While Coburn continues to hold up much-needed reconstruction aid over a relatively meaningless objection, “just 2 percent of [Haiti’s earthquake] rubble has been cleared and 13,000 temporary shelters have been built — less than 10 percent of the number planned.” There are estimated to be 1.3 million Haitians still homeless as a result of the earthquake.

Update:

Foreign Policy’s Josh Rogin writes that Coburn is actually not responsible for holding up all Haitian reconstruction aid because the $1.15 billion is already appropriated to help Haiti, unrelated to Coburn’s hold on an authorization bill — “authorization bills, like the one that Coburn objects to, are useful for setting out Congressional direction on how money should be spend, but aren’t strictly necessary to the disbursement of the funds. The appropriations bills are the ones that actually spend the money.”