Jones Act Waived for Puerto Rico, Easing Hurricane Aid Shipments

Here’s a brief guide to the law, what it does, and why Puerto Rico wanted it waived.

What is the Jones Act?

The Merchant Marine Act of 1920, known as the Jones Act, requires all goods shipped between points in the United States to be carried by vessels built, owned and (mostly) operated by Americans.

Its goals were twofold, according to a 2003 report by the Congressional Research Service, a nonpartisan arm of Congress. First, it was intended to support a national maritime industry that could mobilize for war or a national emergency. Second, it was intended to protect American control over local waterborne commerce.

Those opposed to the act have long included officials in and allies of Hawaii, Alaska and Puerto Rico, who say that the law increases shipping costs for goods from the mainland, which are then passed on to consumers. Its supporters include pro-defense groups and members of the domestic shipping industry whose interests it protects.

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Hurricane Maria caused widespread damage across Puerto Rico, and officials said the Jones Act was hindering efforts to get supplies to the island.

Credit
Joe Raedle/Getty Images

Why did Puerto Rico want a waiver?

In a Monday letter to the head of the Department of Homeland Security, eight members of Congress asked for a temporary waiver of the act, arguing that lifting it would expand access to food, medicine, clothing, building supplies and oil needed for power plants.

“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,” one of the letter’s signatories, Representative Luis V. Gutiérrez, Democrat of Illinois, said in a statement at the time.

A day later, Senator John McCain, Republican of Arizona, voiced his…

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