Smith-Payne Bill Eliminates Evacuation Fees for Americans Fleeing Crisis Abroad
Representatives Chris Smith (R-NJ) and Donald Payne (D-NJ) today introduced legislation to eliminate the reimbursement requirements for Americans who are evacuated from overseas when their lives are endangered. Smith is chairman of the subcommittee that oversees State Department operations and Payne is the ranking Democrat member.
"It is the primary responsibility of the government to ensure the safety of all of its citizens, whether here or abroad. To make that conditional on one's ability to pay back the government is absurd," said Smith, Chairman of the House International Relations Africa, Global Human Rights and International Operations Subcommittee.
"Forcing American citizens to pay for emergency evacuations when an international crisis occurs is outrageous. As we work to promote democracy in other parts of the world, we should be setting an example by protecting our own citizens without demanding repayment for ushering them to safety," said Payne.
The Smith-Payne bill, H.R. 5873, amends current law to give the State Department flat out authority to use appropriated funds to pay for emergency evacuation services for Americans whose lives are endangered by war, civil unrest or natural disaster overseas. As written now, U.S. law requires that private citizens reimburse the government at current commercial rates if they are evacuated from a foreign country under these circumstances.
Last week, the State Department announced it would not require Americans evacuated from Lebanon since the start of the current crisis to reimburse the government.
"Americans who have been evacuated from Lebanon have undergone a traumatic experience fleeing danger to save their lives," Smith said. "The Secretary of State made the correct call in waiving the reimbursement requirements. Our bill strikes the reimbursement provision all together so time is not lost and citizens are not making safety decisions based on finances while the State Department assesses its reimbursement options."
In addition to the trauma of being caught in the crossfire during a conflict, many families also suffer an economic impact as they are forced to leave possessions behind. It is just wrong for our government to add to the emotional and financial burden of our own citizens as they flee from harm's way," said Payne.
The U.S. government has evacuated nearly 12,000 of the estimated 25,000 American citizens in Lebanon. About 1,000 evacuees from all over the country have been taken to McGuire Air Force Base, which borders the district Smith represents in Congress. Transportation from McGuire to Newark has been arranged and paid for by the government.
The U.S. Embassy in Lebanon has announced that the last scheduled ship departure from Lebanon will leave tomorrow. American citizens who still wish to depart Lebanon should not wait for a call from the U.S. Embassy and instead need to proceed directly to the Dbayeh Processing Center. Processing will begin on July 26 at 9:00 am. The Embassy has announced that future assisted departures will be on an emergency case-by-case basis and such departures may not be immediate.
U.S. citizens in Southern Lebanon, where some of the fiercest fighting is going on, are urged to register with the Embassy online at https://travelregistration.state.gov or by fax at +961 4 544 209 or +961 4 544 037. For information about the assisted departure, U.S. citizens may call 1-888-407-4747 (from the U.S.) or 1-202-501-4444 (from outside the U.S.).