The Trump administration on Thursday waived the Jones Act as part of an effort to help Puerto Rico recover from the most devastating hurricane to hit the island since 1928. The law was hindering the island’s ability to recover, according to economic experts and legislators.
The Jones Act, officially known as the Merchant Marine Act of 1920, was passed just after World War I to protect the maritime industry from foreign competition. The law requires that only U.S. ships carry goods to and from domestic ports.
Any foreign ships making deliveries to Puerto Rico would be subject to high tariffs, which would increase the cost of consumer goods.
Trump waived the law temporarily after a request form Puerto Rico’s governor. The waiver went into effect immediately.
Goods shipped from the United States to Puerto Rico are often transferred from foreign ships to U.S. ships in Florida. The goods wind up costing double the price of what’s charged on neighboring islands. That makes the cost of living on Puerto Rico significantly higher, despite the per capita income being less than the poorest state on mainland U.S.
The Department of Homeland Security had been under increased pressure to waive the law in order speed up deliveries to Puerto Rico, which is still reeling from the damage caused by Hurricane Maria.
Senator John McCain sent a letter on Tuesday to the Department of Homeland Security urging that the Jones Act be waived and ultimately repealed.
“It is unacceptable to force the people of Puerto Rico to pay at least twice as much for food, clean drinking water, supplies and infrastructure due to Jones Act requirements as they work to recover from this disaster,” McCain wrote.
The waiver will be in effect for 10 days after signing and will cover all goods shipped to Puerto Rico.
Trump commented on the situation on Wednesday after returning from Indiana.
“We have a lot of shippers and a lot of people that work in the shipping industry that don’t want the Jones Act lifted,” he said. “We have a lot of ships out there right now.”