(WASHINGTON, D.C.) – Congressman Jamie Raskin (D-MD) joined Rep. Nydia M. Velázquez (D-NY) in introducing legislation to waive fees for Americans abroad who require evacuation assistance from the U.S. Department of State. Thousands of Americans, including Rep. Raskin's constituents, are stranded abroad due to travel restrictions stemming from the coronavirus pandemic. The bipartisan bill is cosponsored by Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ).
“In the middle of this crisis, it is unconscionable that our government would foist enormous travel fees on stranded Americans who are desperate to get home and reunite with their families,” Velázquez said. “This bill is meant to send a message to the State Department to waive these fees, immediately.”
“This legislation would provide important relief for American citizens stranded abroad due to the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Smith, who has been assisting American citizens trapped abroad as countries have shut down international travel. “As the coronavirus pandemic disrupts the lives of Americans here at home, we cannot forget our fellow Americans overseas who are cut off from their families and using what resources they have left to cover the costs of unplanned extended stay in a foreign land.”
The Department of State can coordinate evacuation transport for Americans who are unable to procure commercial travel. However, travelers who use Department of State flights have to sign a promissory note indicating their intent to pay the cost of a full-fare economy flight or comparable alternate transportation. In some cases, Americans have reportedly been obligated to commit to paying over $1,400 for a seat on these coordinated flights. Unfortunately, current law requires private citizens to reimburse costs related to this coordinated travel. The Velázquez-Smith bill would eliminate the cost to citizens to return home on government coordinated charters because of the coronavirus.
“Whether it is a student studying abroad, someone on business travel, or simply a family on vacation, many of our fellow Americans are finding themselves caught in the wrong place at the wrong time,” Velázquez added. “This bill will help them get home safely and securely without undue financial hardship. It is my hope that this bill’s introduction moves the State Department to take steps on its own to remedy this problem.”
The bill is also cosponsored by Reps. Yvette D. Clarke, Joe Neguse, Jerrold Nadler, James P. McGovern, Brad Sherman, Jahana Hayes, Illhan Omar, Adam Schiff, and Adriano Espaillat.