Jul 27, 2023 - Politics

Louisiana passport requests flood congressional offices

Animated illustration of US passports filling the screen.

Illustration: Shoshana Gordon/Axios

Congressional staffers are scrambling to save family vacations, destination weddings and more as desperate constituents flood the Louisiana delegation with pleas for help in dealing with unprecedented passport delays.

Why it matters: Many U.S. Senate and House offices that typically help a couple dozen Americans expedite passports each year have juggled hundreds to thousands of cases this year — and appeals have soared in the summer travel season.

Driving the news: Both of Louisiana's Republican senators have seen an uptick in passport cases this year. "For over a year, we've seen delays on passport requests that used to take much less time to fill. Something's not working," Sen. Bill Cassidy told reporters this week.

  • "I'm told there's people working overtime at the passport office to meet our requests. I'm grateful for that ... but it's clear that having people work overtime is not the solution."
  • Sen. John Kennedy's office has also received a "large volume" of requests this year, according to an aide.

Zoom in: In one instance, Cassidy recounted, a couple missed a wedding after an emergency passport meeting failed to get them their documents in time. One constituent was the officiant, and the other was the maid of honor.

  • "Delays like this should not cost a family thousands of dollars due to a missed flight or pre-paid vacation," he said.

What we're watching: Faced with growing numbers of angry constituents, scores of federal officials from both parties have signed letters to the State Department demanding action.

  • One bipartisan May letter was endorsed by more than 190 members of Congress, including Rep. Julia Letlow (R-La.). It stated that passport cases were making up a "disproportionate percentage of our offices’ constituent services caseload."

The big picture: The State Department's online passport renewal system failed earlier this year, dramatically increasing an already growing backlog fueled by the post-pandemic surge in international travel.

  • The department is receiving roughly 400,000 passport applications a week — down from 500,000 earlier in the year — and is on track to surpass the record 22 million passports issued last year.

The backlog has gotten so bad that regional passport offices have had to reject even congressional requests for constituent appointments — with exceptions only in extreme situations like funerals.

What they're saying: "It’s worse than anyone realizes," Aaron Fritschner, spokesperson for Rep. Don Beyer (D-Va.), told Axios.

  • "I sit in the front office and often take calls when people get upset. It really has been unlike anything I’ve seen."

Be smart: "Our office always remains ready to help Louisianans navigate this process, and we welcome their outreach to our Lafayette office for passport assistance," said a Kennedy aide. The number is 337-269-5980.

  • Cassidy advises constituents to call his Baton Rouge office for help at 225- 929-7711.
avatar

Get more local stories in your inbox with Axios New Orleans.

🌱

Support local journalism by becoming a member.

Learn more

More New Orleans stories

No stories could be found

New Orleanspostcard

Get a free daily digest of the most important news in your backyard with Axios New Orleans.

🌱

Support local journalism by becoming a member.

Learn more