Updated: Trump administration is gouging hurricane evacuees


Correction: MarketWatch, which originally reported this story, has updated its article to clarify that according to the State Department, evacuees from Puerto Rico will not be forced to sign promissory loans in order to leave the island. Ashley Garrigus, press officer at the State Department’s Bureau of Consular Affairs, told MarketWatch, "The Department of State is not facilitating evacuations from Puerto Rico, as it is a U.S. territory." MarketWatch notes that "other U.S. citizens being evacuated from the region are subject to the promissory loan requirement."

The Trump administration’s widely criticized, slow-moving relief effort for the island of Puerto Rico — where more than 3 million American citizens remain without electricity and might not have any power until 2018, and nearly half the island has no drinking water — at times now seems to border on a heartless parody.

The country’s main airport remains clogged with residents desperate to get off the island, as airline service remains sporadic. Rather than doing everything possible to help citizens evacuate, Trump’s State Department is demanding refugees pay “full fare” for flights off the island. And if they can’t pay, the State Department will "limit" passports until full payment is made.

The stunning regulation comes at the same time that Trump Cabinet members have exposed for flying around the country in luxury private jets — complete with upright leather seats and walk-in kitchens — and making taxpayers pick up the massive tabs.

Hurricane victims certainly aren’t receiving that kind of pampered treatment. Instead, they’ll being stiffed with bill.

“The Trump administration is making U.S. citizens pay 'full fare' to be evacuated from hurricane-ravaged Puerto Rico,” according to a Marketplace report. “What’s worse, the U.S. government, in accordance with a long-standing but discretionary policy, will hold the evacuees’ passports as collateral until it gets its money.”

That discretionary State Department rule sill has not been waived, more than one week after Hurricane Maria obliterated the island.

The administration is demanding is that if a evacuee is flown off the island with help of the government, be it a charter or military flight, the refugee must pay the equivalent of “the price of the last commercial one-way, full-fare (not discounted) economy ticket prior to the crisis.”

So even if a evacuee previously purchased a discount ticket for a flight that got canceled, and then received government transportation, the evacuee would still have to pay the higher "full-fare" price.

The evacuee first signs a promissory note before being flown off the island. “And that promissory note obligates an evacuated person to repay the cost of the transportation to the U.S. government” according to a State Department website. If there’s an issue with the payment, the government retains the passport.

“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 optics border on the obscene.

Not only are Trump Cabinet members flying around the country in the lap of luxury, spending tens of thousands of dollars for private jets to visit family members, but the hurricane relief effort remains stuck in first gear, with an indifferent Trump belatedly agreeing to lift a key shipping regulation to help get supplies to the island. On Wednesday, Trump balked at the idea because the “shipping industry” objected.

Over and over, this administration signals that saving Puerto Rico and its American citizens just isn’t a priority.