Bipartisan bill will help Haiti rebuild garment trade

Haiti’s earthquake-shattered economy received a boost from the House of Representatives today with a vote to open the U.S. market to more Haitian clothing and textiles.

The Haiti Economic Lift Program Act handily passed in the House and will go before the Senate late today or tomorrow.

The bipartisan legislation was crafted by top House and Senate lawmakers and was introduced April 28. It extends existing trade preferences for Haitian goods for 12 years.

“The Haitian garment sector, Haiti’s flagship industry, was making important strides prior to the earthquake and helping the country’s economy establish a stable foothold,” said Rep. Charles B. Rangel, D-N.Y., in a statement accompanying the bill’s introduction. “With this legislation, we will help get the garment sector and Haiti’s economy back on that critical trajectory.”

Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, said in a statement that the bill will assist Haiti’s long-term economic recovery following the largest and most devastating earthquake in the country’s 206-year history.

Bishop Howard J. Hubbard of Albany, N.Y., chairman of the U.S. bishops’ Committee on International Justice and Peace, supported an earlier bill calling for some of the same measures in a Feb. 19 letter to senators on the Finance and Foreign Relations committees.

In a follow-up letter May 4, Bishop Hubbard was joined by Ken Hackett, president of Catholic Relief Services, in thanking Grassley and Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., for sponsoring the new legislation in the Senate.

In February, U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk announced the Plus One for Haiti program, which calls on the American apparel industry to obtain at least 1 percent of its clothing imports from the Caribbean nation.

Haiti exported $513 million worth of clothing to the U.S. in 2009, an increase of almost 25 percent from 2008. Haiti is the 17th largest supplier of clothing in the U.S., according to the apparel industry.

Students launch campaign to end “r-word”

Students at the University of St. Thomas – a Catholic diocesan university in St. Paul, Minn. —  launched their own version of a campaign by the Special Olympics to encourage people to stop using the word retarded, or the “r-word.”

The student campaign organizers produced a video about their efforts and collected student pledge forms where students promised not to use the word.

Kari Jo Johnson, a St. Thomas senior who helped initiate the campaign, said her brother’s Down syndrome inpacted her in “unspeakable ways.”

“When I saw the campaign that Special Olympics started, I knew my campus, classmates and peers needed to be informed about how this word could actually be stopped,” she told the university’s news service.

 John Busch, another university senior and campaign organizer, also has a brother with Down syndrome and is offended when he hears the word retarded.  “As a residence-hall adviser, I hear the word on a daily basis and realize how important it is to get students to understand its true meaning,” he said.

The Special Olympics campaign  encourages people to make online pledges to stop saying the word and encourage others to stop as well. After a little more than two years, the campaign has received about 100,000 pledges.