Video: Helping Haiti Heal

NBC News and news services
updated 1/26/2010 3:59:28 PM ET 2010-01-26T20:59:28

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 passed the bill by voice vote Tuesday. The House rarely passes things by voice vote, signifying bi-partisanship of the highest degree for the bill.

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. More than 12,000 Americans have been evacuated to date, State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said at a press briefing Tuesday.

Crowley said there have been 60 confirmed American casualties and 37 casualties that have yet to be identified. About 4,000 files have been opened at the State Department on American citizens being pursued in Haiti and roughly 20,000 Americans have already been accounted for by the Department of State.

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.

Crowley said almost 500 Haitian orphans have been evacuated to date.

NBC's Courtney Kube, Carroll Ann Mears, and Luke Russert contributed to this report.

Copyright 2010 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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