A week after Hurricane Maria left millions of Puerto Ricans in the dark and without water, President Donald Trump has finally waived the shipping restrictions of the Jones Act for the U.S. territory.
The Jones Act, also known as the Merchant Marine Act of 1920, is a World War I-era law that requires goods shipped between U.S. ports to only travel on American ships built and crewed by American citizens. Basically, it bans foreign-flagged ships from shipping goods between American ports. This means foreign countries trying to send aid to the colony on boats would have to pay tariffs for stationing in Puerto Rico or drop their supplies off in Florida, which would then go on a U.S. ship back to Puerto Rico, according to the Washington Post
. Puerto Ricans have long argued the Jones Act makes food and everything else on the island more expensive than it is on the mainland. An opinion article for the New York Times
called it a "shakedown, a mob protection racket, with Puerto Rico a captive market."
Trump waived the Jones Act for Texas and Florida after Hurricanes Harvey and Irma, but initially wavered on doing the same for Puerto Rico because he was effectively considering the profits of the shipping industry over the emergency needs of 3.4 million American citizens who are without electricity and quickly running out of food and medicines.
"We have a lot of shippers," Trump told reporters Wednesday, according to the Huffington Post
. "A lot of people who work in the shipping industry that don’t want the Jones Act lifted. And we have a lot of ships out there right now."
reported on Tuesday that the Department of Homeland Security said there was "no need" to waive the Jones Act because it "would do nothing to address the island’s main impediment to shipping, damaged ports." But several legislators of Puerto Rican descent, including U.S. Rep. Darren Soto, D-Orlando, say waiving the Jones Act for at least a year would speed the delivery of fuel, food, medicines, clothing and other supplies supplies to the hurricane-ravaged territory. On Wednesday, Soto, Nydia Velázquez and other Puerto Rican lawmakers filed a bill
to permit waiving the Jones Act for humanitarian relief efforts.
"We’re deeply disappointed with the response received from the White House refusing to do so," Soto said after the Trump administration's initial response to waiving the federal requirement. "Both Texas and Florida received a waiver of the Jones Act to allow ships from other countries to come in and help with relief efforts. This is absolutely a mistake for the administration to refuse the waiver for fellow American Citizens who are suffering. Right now, Puerto Rico needs all the help it can get."
Some lawmakers, like U.S. Sen. John McCain, R-Arizona, want to repeal the Jones Act entirely
"It is unacceptable to force the people of Puerto Rico to pay at least twice as much for food, clean drinking water, supplies and infrastructure due to Jones Act requirements as they work to recover from this disaster," McCain wrote
on Tuesday to acting Homeland Security Secretary Elaine Duke. "We must treat this emergency relief with urgency ― every day that business owners are unable to recover their assets and account for lost business, the economy will retreat even further into devastation."