US senators call for $3.5 billion in American aid to help Haiti recover from quake

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti (AP) — U.S. senators proposed Wednesday to increase American aid to Haiti to $3.5 billion over the next five years to help the country emerge from the pulverizing blow of the Jan. 12 earthquake.

The proposal introduced by senators John Kerry of Massachusetts and Bob Corker of Tennessee calls for spending nearly 25 percent more than President Barack Obama had said in March was needed to rebuild. Kerry is the chairman and top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and Corker is the committee's No. 2 Republican.

Proponents say the legislation is essential to help a country of nearly 10 million people that saw its capital destroyed, government decapitated and 1.3 million people left homeless by the magnitude-7 quake. The Haitian government estimates between 230,000 and 300,000 people were killed.

In addition to tripling U.S. funding for next year, the bill would create a senior Haiti policy coordinator, appointed by Obama and based in the State Department, to oversee a program of improving governance, economic growth, environmental restoration and investment in women and children.

The measure includes the $1.15 billion pledged in March at a United Nations donors conference for Haiti, plus adds an additional $500 million a year through 2014, on top of other funds already pledged by Congress.

That would raise the total money pledged by the international community for Haiti's rebuilding to nearly $15 billion, including the money pledged by nearly 50 donors at the U.N. conference and $2.7 billion already pledged for humanitarian relief.

The international aid group Oxfam praised the Kerry-Corker bill for supporting Haitian-expressed needs and leadership in the country's rebuilding. But it expressed concern that the policy coordinator would keep development experts from effectively organizing the U.S. response.

The money could still be a long way off: Even if the bill passes the Senate and House, its proposals then would have to be separately approved by congressional appropriations committees, which would take it up as a contentious midterm election approaches.

Kerry and Corker's bill is the latest in a flurry of Haiti-related legislation in recent weeks.

On Wednesday, the U.S. House of Representatives approved a bill to expand trade preferences for Haitian textiles. Lawmakers had already passed bills that make it easier to contribute to Haitian relief efforts and calling on international financial groups to forgive Haiti's $1 billion in international debts.