(WKBW release) New York Congressmembers Brian Higgins and Kathy Hochul announced plans Friday to introduce two pieces of legislation aimed at easing the costs associated with obtaining a passport.
Both Higgins and Hochul serve on the House Committee on Homeland Security and represent the Western New York community, which is home to four U.S.-Canada border crossings.
“For residents in Western New York traveling to southern Ontario to work, shop and visit is as seamless as crossing the street to your neighbor’s house,” said Higgins, who also serves on the Northern Border Caucus. “This cross border flow represents good paying jobs to both Canadian and US citizens but families and businesses along the border disproportionately bear the cost of obtaining passports for everyday activities and business. National security is a concern to all Americans but the cost of complying with our security measures should not be borne by predominantly border communities.”
“As a former Erie County Clerk I am very aware of the high costs associated with obtaining passports,” said Hochul. “I helped process thousands of passports that cost Western New Yorkers upwards of $100 each. These prices are far too high for residents who travel across the border day after day for work and pleasure. We need to save Western New Yorkers every penny we can and these two bills will help bear much of the costs associated with obtaining a passport.”
Next week Higgins and Hochul will co-sponsor and introduce the Passport Fee Relief Act and the Passport Acquisition Savings and Security Act which would help provide U.S. residents with affordable access to passports for both business and personal travel.
The Passport Fee Relief Act would provide a refundable tax credit to those obtaining a passport and passport card. Under the bill, residents would be reimbursed through their tax filings for the cost of the passport application fee which, when purchasing a passport book and card, totals $140.
The Passport Acquisition Savings and Security Act would tie the fees charged for passports to the actual cost of producing and administering the passport program. Currently, over half of the fees and surcharges collected are returned to the treasury as general revenues and do not correspond with the cost to the government for providing these services. Under the Higgins/Hochul bill, the State Department must set the passport fee no higher than the cost of administering the passport program. Currently, a significant portion of Americans’ passport fees goes to the general Treasury.
U.S. Canadian trade accounts for 500,000 jobs in New York alone and presents over $535 billion in merchandise trade annually.
The number of Americans obtaining a passport since 1974 has increased more than 300% due, in part, to the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative instituted post-9/11, which requires all travelers to present a passport when entering the United States. Last year, the U.S. State Department issued over 13.8 million passports including nearly 1.6 million passport cards. New Yorkers ranked among the top three in terms of passport demand, with over 1.1 million issued to state residents in 2010 alone.
This isn’t the first time Higgins and Hochul have worked together on the issue of passport costs. Last February Congressman Higgins and then-Erie County Clerk Hochul jointly opposed the U.S. State Department’s proposed Passport fee increases.