When disaster strikes, the American people open their hearts and their wallets to provide assistance to those in need. This was especially true when a deadly earthquake struck our neighbor Haiti on January 12, 2010. Congress moved quickly to provide $1.14 billion in emergency aid with $651 million allocated to the State Department's Agency for International Development (USAID) to implement reconstruction projects. What Congress failed to do was accompany that money with clear policy guidance and benchmarks for success. As a consequence, the General Accounting Office (GAO) report in June 2013 found that "Congress lacks information on the amounts of funds obligated and disbursed and program-by-program progress of U.S. reconstruction activities [in Haiti]." With significant post-earthquake assistance still unspent and the needs of the Haitian people still unmet, it is time for Congress to demand greater transparency and accountability.
The Assessing Progress in Haiti Act (H.R.3509) would do just that. The bill, introduced by Representative Barbara Lee (D-CA), requires the State Department to provide comprehensive reporting on how U.S. aid in Haiti is being spent including an assessment of whether vulnerable populations have been taken into account in the design and implementation of new programs. Nearly six months after the bill passed the House with bipartisan support, it is languishing in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
I have joined with 22 CEO's of international development, faith-based, human rights and social justice organizations to strongly urge the Senate Foreign Relations Committee to swiftly pass the Assessing Progress in Haiti Act. We believe that if the United States aspires to be a leader on the global stage of humanitarian and development relief, particularly in post disaster contexts, it is critical that future US policy and practice is informed by what has or has not been achieved in Haiti. The Assessing Progress in Haiti Act makes an important contribution to that learning.
We want Senators to know that this bill has "widespread bi-partisan support, has undergone extensive consultations and is supported by organizations with a strong commitment to a just recovery in Haiti." There is no excuse for delay. This bill provides "a meaningful way to ensure the responsible allocation of U.S. taxpayer funds and help ensure that our efforts in Haiti are fulfilling the hopes and aspirations of the Haitian people."
Haitians continue to face tremendous challenges. It's not too late to make a difference. What's needed is timely, comprehensive information on the status of U.S. efforts in Haiti and strong oversight moving forward. It's time for the Senate to do its part to honor American generosity and the dignity and worth of the Haiti people.
William F. Schulz, former executive director of Amnesty International USA, is president of the Unitarian Universalist Service Committee.
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