Dems introduce bill to expand Jones Act waivers for Puerto Rico

Dems introduce bill to expand Jones Act waivers for Puerto Rico
© Cameron Lancaster

House Democrats introduced legislation on Wednesday to allow the Trump administration to waive the Jones Act if it would help disaster relief efforts in areas such as Puerto Rico.

The nearly century-old shipping law, which has come under the spotlight after a string of recent hurricanes, requires that cargo shipments between U.S. ports only take place on American-made and operated vessels.

ADVERTISEMENT

The administration has been facing pressure to temporarily lift shipping restrictions for Puerto Rico in order to help deliver emergency supplies more quickly and cheaply to the U.S. island territory, which is facing widespread food, water and medical supply shortages after Hurricane Maria.

But the Department of Homeland Security, which is still considering whether to grant the waiver, said it is only allowed to lift the shipping rules if it’s in the interest of national security and if there aren’t enough U.S. ships to deliver cargo.

The bill from House Democrats, however, would expand those waivers to include humanitarian relief efforts.

“This is a humanitarian crisis and Puerto Rico needs all the help it can get,” said Rep. Nydia Velázquez (D-N.Y.), the sponsor of the bill who requested a one-year waiver for Puerto Rico.

Velázquez, who was born in Puerto Rico but represents parts of Brooklyn, said the legislation would ensure that "any and all maritime assets can access the Island to deliver aid, regardless of their Jones Act status."

Democratic Reps. Grace Meng (N.Y.), Darren Soto (Fla.), Luis Gutiérrez (Ill.) and José Serrano (N.Y.) are also backing the legislation.

Homeland Security officials have cautioned that a waiver might not be necessary for Puerto Rico, since there appears to be enough U.S. ships available.

President Trump also emphasized that the shipping industry is strongly opposed to waiving the rules.

“We’re thinking about that, but we have a lot of shippers, a lot of people that work in the shipping industry that don’t want the Jones Act lifted,” Trump told reporters Wednesday. “And we have a lot of ships out there right now.”