Merkley, Wyden Introduce Legislation to Ensure Americans Aren’t Burdened With Big Bills From Emergency Coronavirus Evacuations

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Oregon’s U.S. Senators Jeff Merkley and Ron Wyden today introduced legislation that would ensure Americans who were evacuated from foreign nations by the State Department this spring as the coronavirus pandemic hit will not be saddled with huge, unaffordable bills.

As the coronavirus pandemic accelerated earlier this year, countries moved to close their borders, leaving thousands of Americans stranded overseas. Many of these travelers were only able to get home by flying on State Department chartered evacuation flights after pledging to repay the cost. Others paid out of pocket for commercial flights arranged by the State Department or took U.S. government emergency repatriation loans to cover the cost of these flights. If these travelers were forced to repay the cost of the chartered flights, or were unable to recover their out of pocket costs, the bills could be staggering for many middle class Americans, particularly amid the unprecedented economic collapse.

Merkley, who is a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, plans to offer a version of today’s legislation as an amendment at a committee markup tomorrow morning.

“The coronavirus pandemic required dramatic changes in plans, including the need for Americans overseas to find quick flights back to America,” said Merkley. “Americans should not be left on the hook for crushing bills because they had the misfortune to be traveling during a one-in-a-century global emergency.”

“Making Oregonians who were stranded overseas during a global pandemic repay the State Department for emergency travel home would be an awful textbook example of adding insult to injury,” Wyden said. “This legislation is a must-do fix for the students, seniors, middle-class families and so many others who just wanted to come home as soon as possible without getting saddled with additional expenses during brutally tough economic times.”

Today’s legislation would take the following steps to protect Americans from unaffordable emergency evacuation bills:

  • Mandate that the U.S. Secretary of State waive repayment of promissory notes signed by U.S. citizens evacuated from a foreign country to the United States by the State Department on or after January 1st as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.  
  • Cancel repayment of emergency repatriation loans incurred by U.S. citizens in connection with COVID-19 repatriation travel.
  • Authorize the Treasury Department, in consultation with the Secretary of State, to reimburse any U.S. citizen who was evacuated from a foreign country on or after January 1st, 2020 on one or more evacuation flights arranged by the State Department, for any travel expenses in connection with those flights. It also mandates the Secretary of State to develop an online process through which citizens can submit claims and authorizes such sums that may be necessary for these reimbursements.

The full text of today’s legislation is available here.