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Schumer's passport backup bill may be signed today

Calling delays in issuing passports to Americans traveling abroad "one big mess," Sen. Charles E. Schumer on Monday said his new legislation to rehire retired State Department personnel will help alleviate a huge backlog of applications.

Schumer, D-N.Y., told reporters at Buffalo Niagara International Airport Monday afternoon that once President Bush signs the legislation -- expected as early as today -- as many as 300 passport adjudicators could be hired immediately. That would include 50 to 100 authorized by the Schumer bill.

That will go a long way, he said, toward addressing applications now taking 12 to 16 weeks to process instead of the normal three to six weeks.

"It's hurt families traveling overseas on vacation and it also has hurt business here in Western New York," Schumer said.

The senator was joined by seven Western New Yorkers who needed intervention by his office to gain their passports in time for scheduled departures overseas. They included several students studying abroad or working on missionary trips as well as former Buffalo Police Commissioner Ralph V. Degenhart, who almost missed a wedding in Costa Rica because of the passport snafus.

"It's been typical federal government bungling," Schumer said, claiming tightened passport requirements proposed by the Department of Homeland Security overwhelmed the State Department's passport office.

"The right hand of the federal government did not tell the left hand," he said.

Schumer explained that the federal government's Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative and its call for passports for re-entry from Canada, Mexico and the Caribbean sparked the onslaught of applications this year, though the requirement has been put on hold.

Still, the State Department could not handle the flood of applications. Schumer said while 12 million passport applications were processed in 2006, as many as 17 million are expected this year, with almost 3 million applications pending.

"Our office is getting over 20 calls a day for people in desperate situations," he said. "It goes on and on and on."

And because federal laws would have forced retirees to give up a year's worth of pension if they returned to work, hiring former workers who need no retraining was not an option until Schumer introduced legislation eliminating the penalty.

He expects that the legislation will double the number of people processing passport applications and said the backlog should clear in six weeks. In the meantime, he urged any Western New Yorkers without passports who are within a week or two of departure to contact his office for help.

"Call our office," he said. "Don't miss your honeymoon."


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