Lawmakers seek Puerto Rico exemption to law that slowed aid
WASHINGTON — Republicans and Democrats in Congress are pushing to exempt Puerto Rico from a federal law that prohibits foreign-flagged ships from shuttling goods between U.S. ports. President Donald Trump temporarily waived the Jones Act last month amid criticism that the once-obscure law hindered relief efforts to in Puerto Rico following Hurricane Maria.
The 10-day waiver expired on Sunday night and was not renewed. A spokesman for the Department of Homeland Security said an extension was not needed to support relief efforts on the island, adding that there’s “an ample supply” of U.S.-flagged vessels to ensure cargo reaches Puerto Rico.
Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., said Monday that the expiration of the Jones Act waiver added renewed urgency to his push to permanently exempt Puerto Rico from what he called an “archaic and burdensome law.”
“Until we provide Puerto Rico with long-term relief, the Jones Act will continue to hinder much-needed efforts to help the people of Puerto Rico recover and rebuild from Hurricane Maria,” he said.
Rep. Nydia Velázquez, D-N.Y., said the temporary waiver should be extended for at least a year while Congress debates a permanent exemption for Puerto Rico.
“Significant numbers of Puerto Ricans remain displaced and still lack food, drinking water and electricity,” she wrote in a letter to Trump. “If the Jones Act is reinstated, building supplies will cost significantly more in Puerto Rico, compared to costs on the mainland. This will serve only to slow Puerto Rico’s long-term recovery.”
The Trump administration initially said a waiver was not needed because there were enough U.S.-flagged ships available to ferry goods to Puerto Rico. Delays in getting relief supplies to Puerto Rico occurred because of bottlenecks that resulted from the island’s damaged ports and blocked roads, not a lack of ships, officials said.
Even so, Trump waived Jones Act restrictions on Sept. 28, just as he had done to help ease fuel shortages in the Southeast following hurricanes Harvey and Irma.
Rep. Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash., called the Jones Act “incredibly important to our country’s economy and to the maritime industry,” which she said supports nearly 500,000 jobs and is responsible for more than $92 billion in annual gross economic output.
In Washington state, the Jones Act supports more than 16,000, mostly unionized jobs, Jayapal said. “Without these jobs, our economy would suffer tremendously,” she said.
“To be clear, everywhere in the country where we have Jones Act jobs, they are better jobs, better wages and a better future for our Americans across the country,” Jayapal said last week in a speech on the House floor.