San Juan in critical state

K'reisa Cox

Jones Act slowing down Puerto Rico’s recovery after disaster


When a natural disaster strikes, the general public is up to date on every movement the storm takes.

The media fills us in on every data point possible, garners as many live interviews they can and promotes every newsworthy snippet throughout the storm’s duration.

The 2017 hurricane season has produced five major hurricanes so far, three of which have hit the U.S.

As was the case with Hurricane Katrina and other major disasters, the coverage ended as soon as the storm did.

The location most affected by this disproportionate news cycle has been the island of Puerto Rico, which was hit by Hurricane Maria, a Category 4 storm, on Sept. 20.

Though the public’s attention has moved on, there is still a long road for the island’s recovery, impeded by the country’s own legislation.

Through the complexities that have arisen in providing aid to Puerto Rico, a 97-year-old law called the Jones Act has received sudden attention.

Officially known as the Merchant Marine Act of 1920, the law “requires goods shipped between points in the United States to be carried by vessels built, owned and (mostly) operated by Americans,” as summarized by The New York Times.

The provision essentially guarantees protection for domestic shipping companies, as it secures their advantages in transaction costs over foreign shipping companies.

In other words, the act ensures that the U.S. keeps control over commerce in our own waters.

This creates an issue for non-mainland states and territories, like Puerto Rico.

Since it is technically a part of the United States, shipping aid from the mainland to the island falls under the jurisdiction of the Jones Act.

This requires Puerto Rico to use American shipping companies, which, according to Business Insider, makes imports twice as expensive.

In light of Puerto Rico’s fiscal crisis, a mounting $72 billion dollar debt, the added cost creates a substantial burden and hindrance on relief efforts.

Statements were released by several congressmen asking for a temporary waiver of the act, since federal regulation requires FEMA to enter into cost-sharing agreements for recovery programs and thus makes aid unaffordable for the Puerto Rican government.

With the aim of spurring relief efforts, President Trump authorized a 10 day lift of the Jones Act altogether on Sept. 28.

Still, this temporary relief is not going to be enough.

Catastrophe takes seconds, but recovery takes years, sometimes even decades.
Though the Jones Act may seem obscure to most Americans, the Act has actually been a source of contention for many years, with some studies reporting that it cost the Puerto Rican economy as much as $537 million dollars in added costs during a given fiscal year.

This is not to say that it exists without purpose.

The provision is the reason we get our packages delivered by FedEx, and not an international company with foreign pilots and drivers.

Both lobbyists and lawmakers alike have agreed that it is a key component of our national security; keeping domestic shipping in American hands ensures control of our supplies and infrastructure.

Considering that the Jones Act’s role in national security is an issue that former President Obama and President Trump agree upon, I’d say it’s worth taking seriously.

According to a petition released by several congressmen, “Puerto Rico’s current economic conditions have already pushed the local government’s financial resources to the breaking point.”

But the business definition of crisis management is dealing with sudden and unexpected events, which disturb both employees and the organization as a whole.

Now is the time for our government to focus on response rather than regulation, and prioritize the needs of citizens over corporations.

The Jones Act has a significant purpose, but its priorities should be put on the back burner, as we should focus on doing the right thing for Puerto Rico first.

With Americans going without water, shelter and hope for the future, it is time to start adjusting our protocol.

Financial realities cannot simply be ignored, but now is the time to ask for our country’s humanitarian needs to supersede the fiscal.

Our brothers and sisters, in both Christ and country, need our help.

The longer we wait to take meaningful action will cost already scarce government funds, as well hope, for Puerto Rico.