More than four months after a devastating earthquake hit Haiti, Congress is stepping up efforts to provide funds for disaster relief and start rebuilding the country. Lawmakers also are insisting on specific goals and timetables for achieving those reconstruction targets.

Actor-activist Penn, shown here in Haiti, urged the U.S. to “stay the course.”
Actor-activist Penn, shown here in Haiti, urged the U.S. to “stay the course.”

Haiti funding hasn’t been enacted yet; congressional action on that front has been at the committee level so far.

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee on May 25 cleared a bill authorizing $2 billion for Haiti reconstruction, including $1.5 billion in fiscal 2010 and $500 million in 2011. The funds would be subject to annual appropriations, however.

Committee Chairman John Kerry (D-Mass.) called the measure “an important marker” in the congressional commitment to the Jan. 12 quake that killed 230,000 people and caused damages estimated at $11.5 billion. But the bill was pared back from Kerry’s original $3.5-billion, five-year proposal.

Kerry supported the reduction, which was proposed by the committee’s top Republican, Richard Lugar (Ind.). “We don’t really know what’s going to develop over the next five years,” Kerry said.

Lugar said the lower funding also “recognizes likewise the fiscal plight of our government, the U.S. government.”

The legislation would direct the U.S. Agency for International Development to produce a rebuilding strategy for Haiti in consultation with the Haitian government and other organizations. The plan would include specific targets.

The Senate Appropriations Committee also moved on aid for Haiti. The panel on May 13 approved $2.8 billion for Haiti as part of a broader fiscal 2010 supplemental spending measure. The Haiti portion would go for humanitarian and economic purposes as well as for peacekeeping and reconstruction.

Of the $2.8 billion, $770 million is designated for “relief, rehabilitation and reconstruction assistance,” including $438 million for infrastructure. Of the infrastructure allocation, $144 million would go for shelter and $147 million for energy.

Appropriators also attached strings to the Haiti money, saying that before funds are obligated, the State Dept. would...