Frustrated travelers who paid an extra $60 to get their U.S. passports expedited - and still had to wait for them - can now get a refund from the government.
The decision to refund the money, disclosed in a State Department document sent Tuesday to members of Congress, represents the latest effort to come to grips with a massive backlog in passport applications that has ruined or delayed summer vacation plans for thousands in the United States.
The delays were largely due to a new rule that requires U.S. citizens to have passports when flying to Canada, Mexico, the Caribbean and Bermuda. Last week, the government announced it was suspending that rule until September, as long as travelers to those countries carried a printout receipt showing they had applied for a passport.
The passport delays were so bad that many of those who paid for faster service, at a cost of $60 plus the regular processing fees of $97 for a new passport, did not receive their passports within the expected 14 days. Some who paid extra waited for a month or more.
"It's an outrage to pay over $150 for a passport and still have your travel plans ruined," said Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., who had previously called for the refunds.
Schumer also chided State officials for not doing more to publicize the refunds, saying they should be "shouting this refund policy from the rooftops, not whispering it in the wind."
The State Department document, obtained by The Associated Press, says passport applicants who paid for, but did not get, expedited service should send a written refund application to the agency's refund office in Washington. They should provide their passport number, if available, their name, date and place of birth, the approximate date they applied for the passport, as well as a mailing address and phone number.
Homeland Security officials have warned that the passport delays will not affect their schedule of requiring passports of everyone driving across the border into Canada or Mexico beginning in January 2008 - a rule that some experts believe will lead to a fourfold increase in new demand for passports.
Refund applications should be sent to the following address:
Department of State, Passport Services/PPS/Refunds, 2100
Pennsylvania Ave. NW, Washington, DC 20037-3202.
(Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)