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Reps. Higgins and Lee Announce Grand Opening of Passport Center in Western New York | Business

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Reps. Higgins and Lee Announce Grand Opening of Passport Center in Western New York

New Full-Service Facility Is One-Stop-Shop for Western New Yorker’s Passport Needs

Congressmen Brian Higgins (NY-27) and Chris Lee (NY-26) were joined today by Under Secretary of State for Management Patrick F. Kennedy and area community leaders to announce the grand opening of a new State Department passport office on Genesee Street in downtown Buffalo. The full-service passport issuance agency in Western New York provides greater convenience and service for our communities, and is able to issue required travel documents within hours in the case of emergencies. (NOTE: A complete timeline of the lawmakers’ activities on this issue is included below.)

As members of the Northern Border Caucus, Higgins and Lee fought to bring a comprehensive one-stop shop passport facility to Western New York in the wake of increased security procedures implemented as part of the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative (WHTI). The WHTI instituted new travel rules last summer that required all U.S. citizens to present a passport or other valid travel document at all land-based ports of entry, including WNY’s four border crossings, which are among the busiest in the nation. In an effort to continue Western New York’s strong history of cross-border commerce, Congressmen Higgins and Lee pushed for a facility that is able to process and issue passports in Western New York. The closest passport agency is located in downtown Manhattan, a seven-hour drive from Western New York.

“The new passport facility is a long-term investment in our community and will enable Western New Yorkers to more easily conduct cross-border commerce,” said Congressman Lee. “Brian and I both understood that the WHTI requirements would mean that thousands of Western New Yorkers would be unable to conduct the international business they depend on, and I’m pleased we were able to quickly join together and urge the State Department to establish a full-service passport office to serve Western New Yorkers.”

"This new passport office delivers multiple benefits here locally," said Congressman Higgins.  "In addition to providing better services for local residents, we are facilitating the smooth and efficient flow of traffic between Western New York and southern Ontario which is important to our economic future, and making a major long-term investment with job creation in our downtown core. This entire project is another victory for Western New Yorkers and I am pleased to join with my colleague Chris Lee, Secretary Clinton, and Under Secretary Kennedy to make this happen."

Congressmen Higgins and Lee have remained in constant contact with State Department since the facility was granted to ensure it would open this year. The Western New York passport office is located in Suite 101 of the Genesee Gateway Building at 111 Genesee Street. The agency’s staff will serve U.S. citizen travelers at five public counters. Congressmen Higgins and Lee have remained in constant contact with State Department since the facility was granted to ensure it would open this year. The U.S. State Department is the first tenant in the $10 million Genesee Gateway historic adaptive reuse project. The Genesee Gateway buildings total 60,000 sq. ft. and stretch from 85 to 123 Genesee St. The restoration of the buildings was based on the United States Department of Interior standards for historic preservation and incorporates state-of-the-art systems that promote energy efficiency.

Lee & Higgins Efforts to Help Cross-Border Commerce: 

March 26, 2009: Lee and Higgins petition Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to open a provisional issuance agency in the region to handle increased demand due to new travel requirements. 

March 27, 2009: Higgins and Lee ask the Department of Homeland Security for a final finding on Shared Border Management to allow for clarity on the Peace Bridge expansion project.

March 27, 2009: Lee and Higgins introduce legislation to make the WHTI transition easier and less expensive for Western New Yorkers.
•    H.R. 1733, the Passport Fee Relief Act of 2009, would provide a refundable tax credit to cover the cost of acquiring a passport, enhanced driver license, or other compliant document. This would help ease the burden on cash-strapped families.
•    H.R. 1734 would establish a passport office in Western New York so area residents can obtain a passport in a matter of hours rather than the weeks-long wait that accompanies applications filed by mail.

April 15, 2009: In anticipation of new tougher border crossing rules due to the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative (WHTI) Lee and Higgins request the State Department establish a passport agency in WNY and seek details on selection process. In their letter, the lawmakers call for “complete transparency” in decision-making process to ensure public understands how “and more importantly, when” issuance agency will be opened.

May 16, 2009: Lee and Higgins announce State Department’s decision to locate an office in WNY. 

May 18, 2009:
  WNY is awarded $700,000 in Recovery Act funds to support the opening of a regional passport agency

February 17, 2010:
  Higgins and Lee announce passport office will be located in historic Genesee Gateway Complex, representing a major investment in downtown Buffalo.

July 29, 2010:
Lee and Higgins introduce H.R. 5960, Passport Acquisition Savings and Security (PASS) Act, to effectively stop the federal government from retaining fees on passports and ensuring every dollar Americans pay for passports are used for passport services.


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