The White House announced Thursday that President Donald Trump will temporarily lift the Jones Act in order to bolster aid efforts in Puerto Rico, which was devastated by Hurricane Maria last week.
The Trump administration has received intense criticism for the delay in lifting the Jones Act to assist Puerto Rico after the administration had already issued temporary waivers in Florida and Texas after Hurricanes Irma and Harvey.
What is the Jones Act?
The Jones Act — also known as the Merchant Marine Act of 1920 — is a maritime shipping regulation enacted by the United States. It requires that goods that shipped from one American port to another be transported on an American-built, American-owned, and American-helmed vessel, thus protecting against foreign shipping competition.
The act, signed by former President Woodrow Wilson, was enacted after World War I in order to help create American jobs and was also seen as an additional line of national marine defense for the U.S.
What does this mean?
The Jones Act is problematic for Puerto Rico at this time, because even the most basic of shipments from the U.S. to Puerto Rico — and vice versa — are required to be done through expensive protected ships, instead of being opened up to a global market.
As a result, the costliness of adhering to the Jones Act inflates prices paid by Puerto Ricans and impacts the cost of living on the island as a whole.
Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) on Tuesday called for the Department of Homeland Security to lift the Jones Act in order to assist the devastated island.
"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," he wrote.
What did the White House say?
This week, Trump voiced concerns about lifting the act.
The Trump administration on Tuesday said there was no need for the waiver.
According to Reuters, the White House felt there was no need to lift the Act "because it would do nothing to address the island’s main impediment to shipping, damaged ports."
Trump on Tuesday said, "This is an island sitting in the middle of an ocean. It's a big ocean, it's a very big ocean."
Trump on delivering aid to Puerto Rico: "This is an island sitting in the middle of an ocean. It’s a big ocean, it’s a very big ocean." pic.twitter.com/d3zkbKmQxr
— BuzzFeed News (@BuzzFeedNews) September 26, 2017
Trump on Wednesday, however, said he was considering lifting the Jones Act.
"We’re thinking about that,” he said during a White House media event. “But we have a lot of shippers and … a lot of people who work in the shipping industry that don’t want the Jones Act lifted. And we have a lot of ships out there right now."
White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said, "At @ricardorossello request, @POTUS has authorized the Jones Act be waived for Puerto Rico. It will go into effect immediately."
— Sarah Sanders (@PressSec) September 28, 2017