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Secure your passport well before it's time to travel

With many families planning vacations, summer is traditionally a busy time for U.S. passport offices. Over the past several weeks, however, I have heard from many Central Washington residents who are experiencing longer than expected delays in obtaining their passports. In many cases it is taking three months or more to receive a passport.

The current backlog is being caused by the need to meet an increased demand for passports and the need to meet more stringent requirements that have been put in place to enhance our homeland security.

To address the passport application backlog, Congress has approved the Passport Backlog Reduction Act which is aimed at helping the State Department bolster its personnel to address the backlog of passport applications. The bill would enable retired State Department employees to be rehired for the purpose of processing applications.

Here are some tips for those in need of a passport:

 . *The State Department recently announced that U.S. citizens traveling to Canada, Mexico, the Caribbean, and Bermuda who have applied for but not yet received passports can temporarily enter and depart from the United States by air with a government issued photo identification and Department of State official proof of application for a passport through Sept. 30, 2007.

Those who have applied for but not yet received a passport can obtain proof of application at: http://travel.state.gov or by calling the National Passport Information Center at 1-877-487-2778.Ê

Starting Oct. 1, 2007, all travel to Canada, Mexico and the Caribbean will require a valid passport.

*Expedited passport applications are currently taking at least two or three weeks to process.

*If you have applied for a passport you can check the status of your application at http://travel.state.gov/passport. This website also provides information about how to apply for your first passport, how to renew a passport, and how to report a lost or stolen passport.

*As you make travel plans, apply for your passport as early as possible. You may want to consider applying for a passport even if you don't have current travel plans.

Most importantly, I encourage Central Washington residents experiencing problems obtaining their passport to call my Tri-Cities office at 509-543-9396. In many cases, my office will be able to assist you in tracking the status of your application and ensuring that you receive your passport in time for your trip.

Congressman Doc Hastings (R-Pasco) represents Central Washington's Fourth Congressional District.

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