In-Depth: Sponsoring Rep. Steve Chabot (R-OH) reintroduced this bill from the 115th Congress to waive passport fees for first responders responding to natural disasters overseas. In a letter to his Congressional colleagues seeking cosponsors for this bill, he wrote:
“[The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID)] contracts with elite teams of first responders who can be deployed at a moment’s notice to assist with natural disaster response efforts around the world. For example, organizations such as the Fairfax County Urban Search and Rescue Team and the Los Angeles County Search and Rescue Team can be activated during emergencies such as earthquakes in Nepal, Japan, and Mexico. So that they can be deployed immediately, they are required to have current passports. Since these first responders operate on a contract basis, however, they are not eligible for fee-free diplomatic passports. That is why we invite you to become a cosponsor of the First Responders Passport Act, which gives the Secretary of State discretion to waive passport fees for those responding to natural disasters abroad. This legislation aims to reduce the costs incurred by first responders as they assist U.S. government efforts and represent America’s generous spirit to those in need.”
This legislation passed the House Foreign Affairs Committee by voice vote with the support of 21 bipartisan House cosponsors, including 14 Democrats and seven Republicans. In the 115th Congress, then-Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA) introduced this legislation with the support of 23 bipartisan House cosponsors, including 14 Republicans and nine Democrats, and didn’t receive a committee vote.
Of Note: Passport renewals for adults are $30 for a passport card, $110 for a passport book, and $140 for both a passport card and passport book. Around a quarter of these fees are recorded as revenues, and the remainder is retained by the State Dept. for consular and border security programs without further appropriation.
First-time passport applicants pay a $35 execution fee that is retained by either the facility accepting the application (such as a post office, clerk of court, public library, or other local government office) or deposited in the Treasury as revenue when the application is made at a State Dept. facility.
There are about 430 first responders in the Fairfax County, Virginia and Los Angeles County, California USAID search and rescue teams. The people in these teams are required to hold current passports and be able to deploy within a few hours. Currently, their passport fees aren’t waived — so fees for the issuance of new passports or renewal of existing passports are paid for by these individuals themselves.
USAID’s first response teams have been called to serve abroad many times. In recent years, the Fairfax Team has been deployed to disasters in Nepal, Japan, and Haiti.
Summary by Lorelei Yang(Photo Credit: iStockphoto.com / wundervisuals)