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Trump Temporarily Waives Jones Act To Aid Puerto Rico, But Is It Time For A Permanent Waiver?

by Countable | 9.29.17

What’s the story?

President Donald Trump has issued a 10-day waiver of the Jones Act, making it easier for supply-carrying ships to dock in Puerto Rico.

White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders made the announcement on Twitter early Thursday morning: "At @ricardorossello request, @POTUS has authorized the Jones Act be waived for Puerto Rico. It will go into effect immediately."

Ricardo A. Rosselló is the governor of the island who had requested the U.S. rescind the century-old "Merchant Marine Act of 1920." As explained in an earlier story on Countable, the legislation commonly known as the Jones Act “aims to promote the growth of the commercial shipping industry by requiring all cargo shipped between U.S. ports be carried by ships built, crewed, and owned by Americans.”

By waiving the Jones Act, foreign vessels headed for Puerto Rico can directly dock at the island, rather than first rerouting to a U.S. port and transferring the goods to an American vessel that then delivers the cargo to the U.S. territory.

"It is an act of justice," Carmen Yulín Cruz, the mayor of San Juan, told CNN on Thursday. “It will allow Puerto Ricans to rebuild and to have a cost of living that really frankly is affordable.”

Why does it matter?

Hurricane Maria devastated Puerto Rico, leaving many of the its inhabitants without basic supplies and 90 percent of the island without power. Trump had been on the receiving end of growing criticism that his response to the destruction had been lackluster, choosing to focus more on the NFL than the American citizens of Puerto Rico.

"Yes," the Miami Herald wrote, “Maria is Trump’s Katrina.”

On Monday, eight members of Congress sent a letter to the Department of Homeland Security asking for a temporary waiver of the Jones Act to "allow Puerto Rico to have more access to the oil needed for its power plants, food, medicines, clothing, and building supplies."

Politicians from across the political spectrum shared similar sentiments throughout the week. On Monday, Rep. Luis V. Gutiérrez (D-IL), one of the co-authors of the above letter, also released a statement:

"Puerto Rico can’t borrow funds and they are required to use American shipping only, which is the most expensive in the world. In their hour of need, Washington can help by suspending the Jones Act."

A day later, Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), echoed these sentiments.

"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."

Following the Trump administration’s announcement of the short-term waiver Thursday morning, McCain pushed for a permanent solution. An hour after Huckabee Sanders’ tweet, McCain tweeted: "Trump admin has finally waived #JonesAct for #PuertoRico. Now Congress must repeal this law to aid long-term recovery." (McCain’s bill to repeal the Jones Act can be found here.)

Waivers to the Jones Act are nothing new. Earlier this month, the Trump administration announced a one week waiver (then extended to two) to ensure that fuel could be distributed to states and territories affected by Hurricanes Harvey and Irma. Similar waivers were granted in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and Hurricane Sandy in 2012.

What do you think?

Is it time to repeal the Jones Act altogether? Or do you think it will hurt the American shipping industry? Hit Take Action, tell your reps, then comment below.

—Josh Herman

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(Photo Credit: Sergio Lacueva / iStockphoto)

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