The federal government should beef up staff to clear the passport backlog created during the coronavirus pandemic, U.S. Sen. Chuck Schumer said at a news conference Sunday.
Schumer said his office has been "deluged" with calls from constituents whose travel plans are in jeopardy because of delays.
"New Yorkers are missing weddings, they are missing business trips, they are missing birthdays, they are missing reunions with loved ones they haven’t seen in a year and a half," Schumer said.
Last week, State Department officials said the backlog is between 1.5 and 2 million passport applications. And while they are moving staff back into offices around the country, there is no current relief from the current 12 to 18 week wait time, a steep increase from pre-COVID times.
Schumer estimated as many as 100,000 New Yorkers have handed in their passport paperwork and are in what he called "passport purgatory."
He stood at his Manhattan office with several people whose travel plans are hanging in the balance, including Cindy Sundersingh, a teacher from Valley Stream who is supposed to go on a vacation to Portugal with her daughters on Aug. 1.
Sundersingh, a New York City schoolteacher who worked in-person during the pandemic, said she didn’t realize her passport was up for renewal. Before the pandemic, she said, the renewal time was three to four weeks.
"This is the trip of a lifetime for them," she said of her daughters, Jamie, 20, and Haylie, 14. "I’m hoping after a tough year for everyone, we can do this."
Schumer pointed out the people calling his office for help have reservations and tickets for their travel but have been waiting weeks and even in some cases months to get passports and visas, he said.
"We are calling on the State Department to put more emergency personnel in those two areas — passports and visas," he said.
In a briefing with reporters on this issue last week, State Department officials said they are bringing back employees who had been out of the office due to the pandemic and are expanding overtime at all locations.
Rachel Arndt, deputy assistant secretary for Passport Services Bureau of Consular Affairs, said the agency is looking to increase its workforce but that it takes some time to hire staff.
"Last-minute passport appointments are extremely limited," Arndt said. "U.S. citizens who wish to travel overseas this summer and do not currently have a passport may need to make alternate travel plans," she said.
Sundersingh said her work schedule does not give her flexibility to make other plans.
"We just have this one block window (to travel) because I have been working summer school as well," she said. "I really hope I get my passport in time."