The Trump administration announced today that it would temporarily waive the Jones Act, a century-old law prohibiting foreign ships from aiding in the disaster relief effort, for Puerto Rico in the wake of Hurricane Maria.
Puerto Rico was recently hit by Hurricane Maria when it was a category 4 hurricane, making it the most powerful storm to hit Puerto Rico since 1928. Maria struck after the infamous Hurricane Irma, and the two combined to cause widespread, catastrophic damage. Power, food, fuel and other supplies are all in short supply on the island.
The Jones Act, a law that regulates maritime commerce, was signed in 1920. Designed to protect American merchant shipping, it has actually been hurting the Puerto Rican economy for many years now. The Jones Act requires ships that deliver goods between American ports to be American-built, which isn’t a big deal for most Americans. But the United States shipbuilding industry is small, and it isn’t enough to serve the needs of areas in need of disaster relief. (Not to mention the fact that it actively drives up the cost of living in Puerto Rico, as ships that comply with the Jones Act are about twice as expensive to operate as others, which obviously makes the entire Puerto Rican shipping industry much more expensive.)
President Donald Trump waived the Jones Act after both Hurricane Harvey and Hurricane Irma to aid in the relief effort, but when he was initially approached about waiving it for Puerto Rico, he made excuses. He said “a lot of people who are in the shipping industry don’t want it” waived, followed by unintelligible nonsense. As usual, Trump’s concerns were largely for the economic interests of a wealthy few: he wanted to help the small group of American shipbuilders, instead of millions of Puerto Ricans.
However, other people were able to provide a more convincing reason why more ships weren’t necessary—videos like the one below show that aid is being delivered to Puerto Rico, but their infrastructure is so devastated they can’t take supplies from the port to more remote areas. Trucks should be showing up to pick up the supplies, but the roads are so wrecked and fuel is so low that they’re having trouble getting any at all.
The New York Times reports that Trump has now waived the Jones Act (even if it was days later than when it should have been waived), but videos like the one above show that more is needed. Replies to that tweet mention that this would be a much better use for the army than… well, anything else.