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Suspension of Jones Act has done little to help Puerto Rico get supplies

Alex Daugherty, McClatchy Washington Bureau on

Published in Weather News

WASHINGTON -- When the Trump administration waived the Jones Act in Puerto Rico for 10 days Sept. 28, it was called an important step for the U.S. territory's recovery from Hurricane Maria.

But the president's waiver, which expires Sunday, has made little difference in the flow of aid to Puerto Rico.

None of the 12 ships known to be operating under the waiver -- which allows foreign ships to transport goods from mainland U.S. ports to Puerto Rico -- has arrived or unloaded cargo in San Juan, according to the Department of Homeland Security.

Three of the 12 ships also appear to be headed to foreign ports, a Homeland Security spokesman said.

The shipping information is voluntarily provided to the Department of Homeland Security by shipping carriers, so there could be more ships operating under the waiver without the department's knowledge. Under the waiver, ships must be loaded by Sunday and then have 10 more days to deliver their cargo to Puerto Rico, so the total number of ships operating under the waiver could increase by Monday.

It typically takes five days to deliver goods by boat to Puerto Rico from Miami and seven days from Jacksonville, Fla. Jacksonville's port is the main hub for transporting U.S. goods to Puerto Rico.

The 1920 Jones Act requires ships transporting goods within the country to be built, owned and operated by U.S. citizens or permanent residents.

When the Trump administration initially decided to not waive the Jones Act in Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria hit Sept. 20, the backlash was fierce. Critics accused Trump of supporting the interests of the U.S. shipping industry instead of putting the needs of Puerto Rico first.

"Puerto Rico is broke and the federal government already controls the purse strings through the financial control board or Junta that was imposed by Congress," said Rep. Luis V. Gutierrez, D-Ill. "In their hour of need, Washington can help by suspending the Jones Act and suspending cost-sharing obligations."

Trump said, "We have a lot of shippers and a lot of people who work in the shipping industry who don't want the Jones Act lifted."

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