Brown Delivers Helping Hand to Haiti

Posted February 19, 2010 at 1:43pm

The campaign slogan for the Congresswoman from the 3rd district of Florida — “Corrine delivers” — has probably never seemed more apt, given Brown’s recent work transporting relief supplies to earthquake victims in Haiti.

In the weeks after the catastrophic earthquake that struck just 700 miles from Florida, Rep. Corrine Brown (D) has leveraged her popularity in her home district and leadership on transportation issues in Congress to ensure that one of her longtime pet causes — U.S. aid to Haiti — receives her constituents’ full support.

Even before the earthquake, Brown had a lengthy track record of advocacy on Haiti’s behalf. As recently as October, she was part of a Congressional delegation that traveled there to meet with President René Préval to discuss issues such as improving the impoverished island nation’s decrepit infrastructure, high unemployment rate and moribund economy. She has also supported granting the United States’ sizable illegal Haitian immigrant population temporary protected status because of extraordinary events such as civil war or a natural catastrophe, a status Haitians can now receive.

“I’m from Florida, and we have the largest Haitian population in the country. [Helping Haiti] has always been a passion of mine,” Brown said in an interview.

So, it was only natural for her to call upon her constituents to help in the relief effort when news of the earthquake broke, Brown’s Chief of Staff Ronnie Simmons said.

It didn’t take long for donations to start flooding in.

Simmons said the real challenge wasn’t amassing supplies, which local churches, businesses and nonprofits collected with ease — instead it was figuring out how to transport roughly $50,000 in food, water and other supplies from the Jacksonville and Orlando areas to Haiti’s shores.

Brown enlisted the help of local Teamsters, railroad companies and even two Royal Caribbean cruise ships to deliver seven 53-foot tractor-trailers chock-full of supplies to Haiti. Another seven trailers are slated for shipment some time this week, she said.

“This is how she’s wired,” said David Heller, Brown’s senior campaign consultant. “It’s what she’s all about.”

Simmons said Brown was instrumental in bypassing the logistical red tape of shipping the supplies via truck, train and cruise ship by getting Teamsters to donate the tractor-trailers and convincing Florida East Coast Railroad and the state of Florida to waive their standard shipping and port fees. She also coordinated with the Coast Guard to ensure the supplies safely reached Port-au-Prince, he said.

According to a letter sent to Brown by Robin Mahfood, president of the nonprofit Food for the Poor, the supplies were distributed to earthquake refugees “streaming north from Port-au-Prince, looking for water, food, and shelter.” Refugees were given a hot meal and a survival kit that included rice, beans, cooking oil, clothing and toiletries. The next step will be to address housing needs and schooling, Mahfood said in his letter.

On Feb. 5, Brown also introduced a bill designed to resolve any lingering issues surrounding a snafu between Florida Gov. Charlie Crist (R) and the U.S. military that resulted in a temporary suspension in the evacuation of critically injured Haitians to Florida.

To clear up any confusion over compensation for Florida hospitals treating Haitian earthquake victims, Brown’s bill would direct President Barack Obama to reimburse states for “expenses incurred in providing treatment for health conditions and illnesses resulting, directly or indirectly, from the earthquake in Haiti.” The bill has since been referred to the House Energy and Commerce Committee.

Brown said her individual efforts are part of a broader, ongoing strategy being pursued by the Congressional Black Caucus to ensure Haitians continue to receive the political support and supplies they need.

“We need a coordinated, Marshall-like plan for Haiti,” Brown said. “You can’t just take one tractor-trailer per month; [Haiti] needs at least one per week.”