Gov. Kathy Hochul was not the only New York resident in Israel during her visit last week. Hundreds of Americans and New York residents visiting Israel and Palestine have been struggling to evacuate with airlines like American Airlines and Delta Airlines canceling flights in the region indefinitely.
While the U.S. government arranged charter flights and ships to help Americans evacuate, those only took them to locations in Europe, with no lodging or transportation back home. In addition those Americans are required to reimburse the federal government for the cost of transportation.
As a result state Sens. Gustavo Rivera, Julia Salazar and Assemblywoman Emily Gallagher have introduced a bill that would allow New York state to reimburse New York residents evacuating from Israel and Palestinian territories amid the continuing crisis.
“I became aware of it when Senator Salazar was talking about it in a tweet,” Rivera, co-prime sponsor of the bill, told The Riverdale Press. “I reached out to her, then some who shared communications with her and was like ‘damn, this is a thing. The federal government is asking for it.’ Both of us thought it was a bone-headed policy.”
Several people who had family members of those in the middle of the warzone when the conflict broke out also reached out to Rivera and his office. He received emails from the state department that detailed some of the efforts to get Americans out of the country. There was a paragraph with a link where those trapped Americans would have to sign a contract and commit to paying back their evacuation costs.
“My heart goes out to all those impacted by this terrible crisis. New Yorkers in the war zone who are seeking safe return through the transportation arranged by the United States government should not be hindered by the future cost,” stated Rivera in a press release. “This bill will ensure these New Yorkers facing an incredibly dangerous and traumatic situation can focus on returning home without worrying about financial burden.”
Sen. Salazar, the prime sponsor of the bill, explained in the same press release, how evacuating Americans signed contracts committing to reimbursement the government for the costs of their life-saving rescue.
“This is an unacceptable policy, and a dangerous one in this moment,” stated Salazar. “In New York, we should support these residents of our state by offering financial assistance to them in the form of a reimbursement fund,” she said. “We must act responsibly to help get as many civilians out of harm’s way as possible. We can do this by ensuring that New Yorkers seeking to escape Israel or Palestine do not have to worry about being financially burdened as they make potentially life-saving decisions for themselves and their families.”
The emergency fund would ensure reimbursement for unreimbursed expenses coming from travel outside of the region as a result of the Oct. 7 Hamas attack. The reimbursement would include costs related to travel, lodging, lost personal property, medical care and reimbursement provided to the U.S. government for transportation.
Rivera told The Press he brought up New York residents having to reimburse the federal government in a briefing call with the governor two weeks ago. She said she would talk about it with the federal government, he said. But she has not spoken directly about the proposed bill yet.
While on the flight to Israel, the governor unfortunately learned that her father had passed away. While Hochul was in Israel she met with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Isaac Herzog. They spoke about the need to rescue hostages and sending humanitarian aid for the people of Gaza. She also visited Kfar Aza, one mile from the Gaza border where 70 people died.
The Biden Administration reported that as many as 600 Americans are being blocked by Hamas from crossing into Egypt. At least 32 Americans have been killed since Hamas attacked Israel on Oct. 7, with many more feared to be held hostage.
Rivera told The Press he has not been provided a rough estimate for evacuation costs for New York residents fleeing. While he is not sure of the exact number of New York residents who are in need of evacuation, he said one is too many.