“Apocalyptic” devastation is how many describe Puerto Rican conditions in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria. With Harvey-level floods and Irma-like winds, the U.S. island territory hasn’t even begun rebuilding. It is expected that many residents will be without power for as long as six months, hospitals are at a crisis point, and aid has yet to arrive in several regions of the island.
The Jones Act, a 1920s protectionist measure that regulates maritime commerce, is exacerbating the situation. Not only has this shipping restriction impacted relief efforts, but it has also contributed to Puerto Rico’s economic demise. Can this archaic legislation finally be abolished?
For a while, it looked as if the Trump administration would keep it intact. Fortunately, it seems the president has changed his mind.
DHS Refused to Waive Shipping Restrictions
Reuters is reporting that the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has rejected requests from several members of Congress to temporarily revoke the Jones Act. This is a move that would allow Puerto Rico to receive necessary supplies, such as gasoline, clothing, and food, in the Maria fallout.
Despite waiving the legislation for Hurricanes Harvey and Irma, the DHS denied inquiries to remove shipping restraints. Officials argue that lifting the policy would not help the territory because it would not address Puerto Rico’s main transport problem: destroyed ports that prevent ships from docking.
Gregory Moore, a spokesperson for the DHS’s Customers and Border Protection, told the newswire:
“The limitation is going to be port capacity to offload and transit, not vessel availability. The situation in Puerto Rico is much different.”
President Donald Trump has faced a fierce backlash in the wake of these reports. The Hill reported that the administration was considering waiving the measure; DHS officials are working with other parts of government to reach a conclusion, noting that “we are constrained.”
When pressed about the waiver, President Trump told reporters at the White House:
“We’re thinking about that, but we have a lot of shippers and a lot of people that work in the shipping industry that don’t want the Jones Act lifted. We have a lot of ships out there right now.”
Critics note that it would make sense to give Puerto Rico a one-year waiver, similar to what was issued to the U.S. mainland. By doing so, crucial supplies could arrive to Puerto Rico faster and cheaper.
Senator John McCain (R-AZ) echoed these sentiments in a statement on Tuesday:
“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.
Now, more than ever, it is time to realize the devastating effect of this policy and implement a full repeal of this archaic and burdensome Act.”
For once, Senator McCain may garner the support of conservatives, liberals, and libertarians all at the same time.
The Jones Act Cripples Puerto Rico
The Jones Act, also known as the Merchant Marine Act of 1920, should be abolished immediately. It is antiquated and is crippling the Puerto Rican economy.
Following the First World War, and the fear of German U-Boats, the U.S. government wanted to protect and maintain an American shipbuilding industry and a seafaring unionized labor force. Under the bill, only U.S. ships would be permitted to carry goods and passengers from one U.S. port to another, and every ship must be constructed, filled, and owned by American citizens.
What strangles the island economy is this: foreign vessels that enter Puerto Rico are mandated to pay fees, tariffs, and taxes, costs that are paid by the consumer. The other option they have is to reroute to Florida, unload the cargo, transfer the goods to a U.S. vessel and then ship to Puerto Rico – again; the additional costs are paid for by the consumer.
Puerto Rican lawmakers have regularly stated that the Jones Act makes importation of essential supplies more expensive.
This may be good for American unions, but it isn’t good for impoverished Puerto Ricans. The Jones Act has created a marketplace where the price of goods is 13% higher in Puerto Rico than the U.S. mainland.
According to a 2012 study by University of Puerto Rico economists, the shipping restrictions caused a $17 billion loss to the island economy between 1990 and 2010. Some experts have estimated that the bill sheds as much as $9.8 billion annually from the territory’s economy. Thankfully, Sarah Sanders announced Thursday morning that the president would waive the Jones Act.
— Sarah Sanders (@PressSec) September 28, 2017
Indeed, the Puerto Rican government has made a ton of mistakes, and they are primarily to blame for their financial crisis. Government spending and waste, a dependence of debt, and a lack of adaptability have damaged the island’s future.
That said, if the U.S. mainland wants to provide real aid to Puerto Rico, then eliminate the Jones Act. Once the recovery efforts are underway, Washington can take the next step: permit the territory to remove the federal minimum wage, something it has had to endure since the 1970s.
With all the issues the federal government has inflicted upon Puerto Rico over the years, why would the Caribbean paradise ever want to be an official state?
Do you support or oppose the removal of the Jones Act? Let us know in the comments section!