Donald Trump is allowing things to get worse in Puerto Rico

The Jones Act was passed in 1920 and required goods sent between U.S. ports to be transported by American vessels

By Matthew Rozsa

Staff Writer

Published October 10, 2017 11:11AM (EDT)

A section of collapsed road after Hurricane Maria, October 7, 2017 in Barranquitas, Puerto Rico. (Getty/Joe Raedle)
A section of collapsed road after Hurricane Maria, October 7, 2017 in Barranquitas, Puerto Rico. (Getty/Joe Raedle)

Under President Donald Trump, the Department of Homeland Security has allowed a temporary waiver on the Jones Act to expire without renewal — meaning Puerto Ricans facing desperate material shortages will struggle even more to meet their needs.

The Department of Homeland Security confirmed that the Jones Act waiver had been allowed to expire on Sunday and would not be renewed "at this time," according to The Guardian. The Jones Act, or Merchant Marine Act of 1920, was passed to stimulate maritime commerce as well as America's shipbuilding industry. To do this, it included a provision that permitted only American ships that were built, manned and owned by American citizens to carry goods and people between American ports.

Unfortunately for Puerto Rico, the Jones Act has made it so that the resulting rise in prices for consumer goods is particularly onerous to the American citizens of Puerto Rico, who continue to need cheap materials shipped to them as quickly as possible.

Forty-three deaths had already been officially reported as of Tuesday, but funeral home directors have told BuzzFeed News that they have dozens more bodies that have yet to be included in the count. As of the end of September, 10,000 Puerto Ricans lived in shelters, often with inadequate medical care or even clean drinking water. As of Monday, 15 percent of the island had power, 28 percent of cell phone towers had been restored, 23 percent of grocery stores remained closed, 22 percent of gas stations are still closed. But that doesn't really matter, because 4,681 miles of the commonwealth's 5,073 miles of roads are closed, according to Axios.

Trump was initially slow to waive the law for Puerto Rico after the island was devastated by Hurricane Maria, only doing so on a temporary basis after facing pressure from both Puerto Rican officials and Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz.

"Now that the temporary Jones Act waiver for Puerto Rico has expired, it is more important than ever for Congress to pass my bill to permanently exempt Puerto Rico from this archaic and burdensome law. Until we provide Puerto Rico with long-term relief, the Jones Act will continue to hinder much-needed efforts to help the people of Puerto Rico recover and rebuild from Hurricane Maria," said McCain in a statement to The Huffington Post. McCain said he supported permanently retiring the Jones Act for Puerto Rico as a way of speeding up relief efforts.

If relief falls to a trickle due to Trump's refusal to renew the Jones Act waiver, it is entirely possible that Trump may exacerbate a looming immigration crisis. Tens of thousands of Puerto Ricans have left or are scheduled to leave the island since the hurricane struck, according to the Los Angeles Times. This is on top of an emigration crisis that had already afflicted the island, one that was initially caused by the commonwealth's economic and debt issues. Between 2006 and 2015, the island's population dropped by more than 10 percent, hitting 3.4 million after being at 3.8 million.

By Matthew Rozsa

Matthew Rozsa is a staff writer at Salon. He received a Master's Degree in History from Rutgers-Newark in 2012 and was awarded a science journalism fellowship from the Metcalf Institute in 2022.

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Donald Trump Jones Act Puerto Rico