The Common Good

Who's Holding Back U.S. Aid to Haiti?

On Friday, September 24, at 3 p.m. a violent and terrifying storm erupted over Port-au-Prince, Haiti. Belony, a member of the maintenance team at the school where we teach, feared immediately for his two young children's safety as the 65 mph winds snapped power lines, split mature tree limbs, and flung tarps around like Ziploc baggies. Belony rushed from work to find his home destroyed by a fallen heavy limb, but both Jeremie and Michel were alive, though terrified. Like an estimated 1.3 million others, Belony and his boys are still living in a makeshift tent city, much the same as they were soon after the devastating earthquake, almost nine months ago.

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Tens of thousands are still suffering after so long, in part, because not one penny of the $1.15 billion pledged by the United States for reconstruction has been delivered. What could possibly be holding back that money? A Senate authorization bill that would allow $917 million of the United State's pledge to be spent has been obstructed by an anonymous senator's hold "for further study." After much research, AP reporters discovered the hold was placed by Oklahoma Senator Tom Coburn.

Senator Coburn's office confirms that he is behind the bill's hold, explaining that he objects to the $5 million cost of creating a senior Haiti coordinator for five years when the U.S. already has an ambassador to the island nation. His blocking of this bill is not a one-time event, but a pattern; a quick search reveals he has recently stalled legislation on wildlife protection, food safety, veterans' aid, and unemployment benefits. In each case, his main justifications included concern over excess spending.

For his crusade to curb wasteful government spending, we applaud Senator Coburn. We hate waste. As missionaries surrounded by desperately needed aid projects operating on shoestring budgets, we know how much $5 million could do. The idea of waste at that magnitude sickens us.

Furthermore, as young Americans who will one day pay the bill for today's government borrowing, we deeply appreciate his concern for the national debt. Senator Coburn, as both a physician and a professing Jesus-follower, is exactly the kind of person one would expect to place a high priority on meeting the basic needs of Haitians still hurting from the earthquake. Perhaps he feels that government overspending and debt are such huge problems that he is, indeed, loving the poor by obstructing new spending legislation.

However, even if the bill is imperfect, it must move forward immediately. The needs in this case are too dire and too urgent to wait even one extra day for the rubble removal and shelters that the aid would provide.

As we write this, it's storming again in Port-au-Prince. City power is down again. The saturated ground makes ripe conditions for flash floods. In the slums created by mazes of rope, tarps, and bedsheets, conditions are appalling. Despair, hunger, and sexual violence prowl. Belony is putting his boys to sleep, trying to keep their bedding dry. Every day that the reconstruction is delayed is one more night 1.3 million Haitians sleep on the mud.

Please email or call Senator Coburn's office and let him know you also want the Haitian reconstruction aid bill to move forward immediately.

Ben and Katie Kilpatrick are teachers and missionaries in Port-au-Prince. Keep up with their adventures at www.benandkatieinhaiti.com.

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