Keeping Americans Safe Through Hurricane Irma

Evacuees in a large military aircraft carrier with soldiers
Evacuees from St. Maartin. Photo Credit: Department of Defense: New York National Guard photo by Army Col. Richard Goldenberg

Steven Wagner, Acting Assistant Secretary, Administration for Children and Families

Before Hurricane Irma struck the islands east of Florida, the Office of Refugee Resettlement at HHS’ Administration for Children and Families started repatriation efforts to ensure Americans were safely transported back to American soil and out of harm’s way. From Saturday evening September 9 through September 15, over 2,600 evacuees were moved from St. Maarten to Puerto Rico. A substantial portion of these individuals will eventually return back to the continental U.S.

This was done in collaboration with the Department of State and Department of Defense, and through the U.S. Repatriation Program. The program was established in 1935 to provide temporary assistance to U.S. citizens who are returning to the US because of a crisis. Once they arrive, the Office of Refugee Resettlement steps in to provide medical care, shelter, food and other necessary services.

This help is in the form of service loans from both the Department of State and Department of Health and Human Services – once the citizens are back on American soil they are expected to repay the government for the help.

The program can be initiated for small or large groups of people. On 9/11, an American citizen on dialysis was helped by HHS and the government of Puerto Rico with urgent travel to return to North Carolina in time for a scheduled kidney transplant procedure.

ACF employees, in conjunction with the Department of State and Department of Defense, will continue to work tirelessly to safeguard the lives of those American citizens in need of assistance.

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