PORT-AU-PRINCE – The lines of people seeking to accompany their American born children have snaked around the rectangular building that is the American Embassy. Some people have even slept overnight to ensure that they have their short-term visa to take their children.
But in the last couple of days, Embassy officials have stopped issuing visas to newcomers, overwhelmed by the demand.
“They took my passport and told me to come back on February 1,” said Suze Paul, who was taken her daughter to Miami. “I’m just waiting.”
A day after the earthquake, American officials urged all of the 40,000 American citizens living in Haiti to evacuate. Many of them are children born of Haitian parents. So the children whose parents weren’t in Haiti were allowed to travel with a guardian.
Meanwhile, Americans escaping from the earthquake devastation in Haiti could get emergency aid from the federal government under legislation moving quickly through Congress.
The measure increases to $25 million this year a Health and Human Services fund that helps Americans returning from Haiti with cash, travel expenses, medical care, lodging and food.
The Senate approved the measure on a voice vote late Monday and the House is expected to approve it Tuesday.
Those receiving aid are obligated to eventually reimburse the government, although repayment may be waived in certain hardship cases.
About 45,000 U.S. citizens were living in Haiti at the time of the earthquake. Of those, more than 14,000 have already returned home.
HHS’s U.S. Repatriation Assistance Fund is currently capped at $1 million. The agency uses the fund to reimburse states that provide temporary assistance to Americans returning from emergency situations abroad.
The bipartisan Senate bill, sponsored by Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus, D-Mont., also includes $65 million to help low-income seniors with incomes between 120 percent and 135 percent of the federal poverty level by paying Medicare Part B premiums for doctor visits. The money would cover anticipated shortfalls in some two dozen states.
The legislation is paid for with $90 million from a Medicaid fund derived from changes that have generated savings in the program.
Senators from the two parties also said Tuesday that they are pressing the State Department and other government agencies to streamline the process so that true orphans in Haiti can find new homes.
Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., pointed to U.N. figures that even before the earthquake orphans made up 4 percent of the Haitian population, more than four times the rate in the United States. Since the quake that number, which stood at some 380,000, has doubled or tripled, she said.
The Associated Press contributed to this story.