Wake Up Congress! Puerto Rico’s Humanitarian Crisis Calls for Suspension of the Jones Act

Image via NY Daily News

Hurricane Maria devastating winds and rains leave many Americans in Puerto Rico without electricity, phone service, food, and medicine. Nearly a week after Hurricane Maria (the most powerful storm ever to hit Puerto Rico), approximately eighty percent of the power lines are still down with little hope of restoration. Puerto Rico is facing a “humanitarian crisis” stated San Juan’s Mayor.

Per The New York Times, President Trump announced that “Puerto Rico was absolutely obliterated” and issued federal disaster aid relief. However, unlike Houston and Florida that were impacted by Hurricane Harvey and Irma, the U.S territory is facing a major obstacle; The Jones Act.

The Jones Act

After World War I, Congress enacted the Merchant Marine Act of 1920, known as the Jones Act. The Jones Act ensures that the country maintained a shipbuilding industry and seafaring labor force. The law decreed that only American ships could carry goods and passengers from one United States port to another. In addition, every ship must be built, crewed and owned by American citizens, according to the New York Times.

What Does This Mean to Puerto Rico 

According to the New York Times, The Jones Act is strangling the island’s economy. “Under the law, any foreign registry vessel that enters Puerto Rico must pay punitive tariffs, fees, and taxes, which are passed on to the Puerto Rican consumer.”

There is really no way around these costs; even if a foreign vessel reroutes to Jacksonville, Florida, transfers the cargo to an American vessel, and then ships the cargo to Puerto Rico.  All of the rerouting costs are passed to the consumer, reports the New York Times.

Congress Should Suspend the Jones Act 

In the past decade, Puerto Rico has struggled with a ballooning debt crisis, resulting in its residents leaving the island to migrate to the mainland. “People were leaving in search of better economic opportunities,” said Teresita Levy, a professor of Latin American and Latino studies at Lehman College in the Bronx. Puerto Ricans were already leaving for economic reasons.  Now with the storm and the lack of access to resources she asks, “What happens if you have a medical emergency and the hospital doesn’t have a generator?” Levy raised a very important question. Many residents are trying to leave the island.  However, there are not many flights. Many people are waiting for federal aid and basic necessities to arrive.

Jennifer Lopez has already donated 1 million dollars to assist with hurricane relief according to Forbes Magazine.

Recovery efforts are very difficult, especially when trying to save lives. With the Jones Act, it just makes it that much more difficult.

In a report by two University of Puerto Rico economists, they found that “the Jones Act caused a $17 billion loss to the island’s economy from 1990 through 2010. Other studies have estimated the Jones Act’s damage to Puerto Rico, Hawaii and Alaska to be $2.8 billion to $9.8 billion per year. According to all these reports, if the Jones Act did not exist, then neither would the public debt of Puerto Rico,” according to the New York Times.

As American citizens, we have to support the long-term impact that suspending or repealing the Jones Act would have. The Jones Act relief could enable residents to buy medicine, give access to international oil markets, allow residents to buy materials needed to rebuild their homes and schools and create better infrastructure to the island.

Lastly, the New York Times reports, “A humanitarian crisis is about to explode in Puerto Rico. But the consequences of Jones Act relief would be immediate and powerful. This is not the time to price-gouge the entire population. It is time for Congress to act ethically and responsibly and suspend the Jones Act in Puerto Rico.” This measure is about creating a better future for American citizens that live in Puerto Rico.


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