Haiti Empowerment and Reconstruction (HEAR) Act

Overview

The Haiti Empowerment and Reconstruction (HEAR) Act (H.R. 6021; S. 3317) was introduced by John Kerry (D-MA) in the Senate on July 19, 2010 and John Conyers (D-MI) in the House on July 30, 2010. The act has yet to pass.

Unlike the Supplemental Appropriations Act of 2010, the HEAR Act provides long-term, as opposed to short-term, funding for Haiti’s reconstruction. It also contains more extensive language on the role of USG in protecting Haitian women and girls, with nine specific references to women and gender.

Overall, the bill authorizes approximately $1.5 billion for 2010 and $5 million per year from 2011 to 2014 for development and reconstruction efforts in Haiti. It establishes a Senior Haiti Coordinator position within the Department of State and requires that USAID submit detailed multi-year strategies and annual reports to Congress. By accepting congressional funding, USAID would also be subject to a Government Accountability Review.

HEAR Act Controversy

Senator Coburn on the O’Reilly Factor

The HEAR Act has been highly debated since September 29, 2010 when the Associated Press (AP) released an article stating that Senator Tom Coburn was solely responsible for the hold-up on spending for Haiti’s recovery. Coburn’s primary objection was the creation of the Senior Haiti Coordinator in the HEAR Act, a position that he felt was redundant considering that the US already has an ambassador to Haiti.

Coburn’s objection to the coordinator position was weakened, however, by the fact that the State Department appointed someone to the position independent of the HEAR Act. According to the State Department website, Thomas C. Adams was appointed the Haiti Special Coordinator on September 27, 2010.

Since September, Coburn has argued that his hold is not the “sole reason” for holding back relief to Haiti. In an oped in the Washington Examiner, he states that his objections are more about additional spending in the HEAR Act that would go above and beyond the $1.5 billion in future spending already appropriated in the Supplemental Appropriations Act of 2010.

He writes, “Some claim [Haiti] funds are moving slowly because of my hold on the Kerry bill. That is a baseless charge. The State Department already had the authority to move [Supplemental Appropriations] funds, yet they did nothing for 10 weeks.” He similarly expressed this position on Fox News (see above).

Women in the HEAR Act

With regards to the legal protection of women and and girls in Haiti, the HEAR Act clearly outlines its goals with regards to women. The following are key references to U.S. policies as they relate to women’s empowerment:

Sec. 4. It is the policy of the United State, in partnership with the Government of Haiti and in coordination with the international community to — (p. 10, lines 8-10)

(1) support the sustainable recovery and rebuilding of Haiti in a manner that– (p. 10, lines 11-12)

(D) incorporates the potential of both women and men to contribute equally and to their maximum efficiency. (p. 10, lines 19-21)

(2) affirm and build a long-term partnership with Haiti in support of– (p. 10, lines 22-23)

(B) provide a foundation for economic growth and economic sustainability, through investments– (p. 12, lines 4-6)

(v) that recognize and address where obstacles related to gender limit, hinder, or suppress women’s economic productivity and gain. (p. 13, lines 6-9)

(D) investments in people, particularly women and children, including– (p. 14, lines 5-6)

(ii) ensuring that women’s needs are appropriately integrated across all sectors, including governance, security, and development, and in program assessment, design, implementation, monitoring, and evaluation, with a goal of promoting access, inclusion, and empowerment. (p. 14, lines 13-19)

Sec. 6. (b) The Haiti Rebuilding and Development Strategy shall– (p. 20, lines 13-14)

(2) to the greatest extent possible– (p. 20, line 25)

(E) incorporate approaches directed at reaching women living in poverty (p. 22, lines 3-4)

(4) promote development and rebuilding efforts in Haiti that are led by, and in support of, all levels of government in Haiti, including national and local governemnts, so that–(p. 17, lines 5-8)

(C) feasible steps are taken to recognize and rectify the social injustice of poverty and gender inequality…(p. lines 17, 16-18)

As evidenced above, the HEAR Act explicitly states that U.S. funding should be used to benefit women in the economic, political, and social sectors.  It should be noted, however, that there is room for interpretation as to how USAID or its implementing partners should apply the HEAR Act to women’s projects. Phrases such as “to the greatest extent possible” and “feasible steps” are vague, as no metric is given for what constituents the “greatest extent” or feasibility.

Legal Rights in the HEAR Act

The HEAR Act does not mention women’s legal rights specifically; instead, it seeks to strengthen both the court system and security situation in Haiti as a whole. The bill states:

Sec. 4. It is the policy of the United State, in partnership with the Government of Haiti and in coordination with the international community to — (p. 10, lines 8-10)

(2) affirm and build a long-term partnership with Haiti in support of– (p. 10, lines 22-23)

(A) just, democratic, and competent governance including– (p. 10, lines 24-25)

(i) an independent, efficient, and effective judicial system; (p. 11, lines 1-2)

(vi) security by–(p. 11, line 16)

(I) ensuring legitimate state efforts to prevent and respond to crime, especially violence; (p. 11, lines 17-19)

(III) reforming local and national police forces through professional training and equipment (p. 12, lines 1-3)

As with projects regrading women, these reforms are equally non-specific. Details as to how the judicial system will be strengthen and in what way police forces need reform are left to the Haiti Rebuilding and Development Strategy, a document that must be submitted to Congress within 90 days after the passage of the HEAR Act.

Future of the HEAR Act

As of November 2010, the HEAR Act remains stalled in Congress. Coburn’s hold is still in effect, though it remains to be seen if the bill will make it to the Senate floor before Congress adjourns in December.