State not requiring Puerto Rico evacuees to pay transportation costs

The State Department is not requiring anyone evacuated from hurricane-ravaged Puerto Rico to sign promissory notes reimbursing the government for travel costs.

Marketwatch reported that the evacuees from Puerto Rico were being required to put up promissory notes under a longstanding policy. The Hill also posted a story based on the Marketwatch report.

The State Department did evacuate 225 people from the Caribbean island of Dominica; most of those evacuees signed promissory notes agreeing to reimburse the State Department for travel costs, according to a source in the department.

The costs are based on “the price of the last commercial one-way, full-fare (not discounted) economy ticket prior to the crisis,” according to the State Department’s website. This policy applies to “anyone evacuated on U.S.-government coordinated transport, including charter and military flights.”

But the State policy does not apply to the U.S. territory of Puerto Rico, a spokeswoman for the department said.

The Defense Department would be in charge of any evacuated people from Puerto Rico. The Pentagon did not respond immediately to a request for comment.

In the case of Dominica, some promissory notes were waived due to medical emergencies, the State Department spokesman said.

People who sign the promissory notes are effectively taking out a loan from the U.S. government. The loans, according to the State Department’s website, are managed “by the Comptroller and Global Financial Services office in Charleston, South Carolina.”

A note on the State Department’s website says that due to “ongoing emergencies,” it is not accepting repayments on the loans right now.

“Currently, loan repayments cannot be completed due to ongoing emergencies in the region. We will update travel.state.gov/evacuate as soon as repayments can be made,” the State Department says.

Limits are placed on the passports of evacuees who sign the notes, the State Department’s website says. 

“Upon evacuation, a Department of State official must limit an evacuee’s passport. In order to obtain a new passport, an evacuee must arrange payment as agreed upon via the promissory note,” the website reads.

The Trump administration has faced criticism from Democrats about the pace of relief efforts after Hurricane Maria. Puerto Rico is without power, and many of the territory’s 3.4 million inhabitants are without clean drinking water.

Trump has vowed that his administration would receive high marks for Hurricane…

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