The Trump Administration's refusal to waive the Jones Act - a century-old shipping law that a New York Times op-ed called "The Law Strangling Puerto Rico" - has been heavily criticized. This means that ships from other countries can't transport supplies between USA harbors.
Under the Act, for a ship to be allowed cabotage, or transportation of goods and people between two harbors in the same country, it has to satisfy all three of these conditions: be U.S. built, United States owned, and US-flag-carrying (which means the ship is registered as American).
The 49-year-old singer was born in NY, but his parents are from Puerto Rico, which was hit hard by Hurricane Maria. "The infrastructure was in a bad shape as you know in Puerto Rico before the storm, and now in many cases, it has no infrastructure, so it's, you're really starting from nearly scratch", the CNN quoted him, as saying.
The Homeland Security Department says under law, it can only waive the Jones Act for purposes of national security, and that the potential cost savings of lifting the law "is not material to our decision-making". "And that is critical".
In the wake of past natural disasters, the USA has temporarily lifted the rule, known as the Jones Act after its sponsor, senator Wesley Jones.More news: GOP's Latest ACA Health Insurance Repeal Still Faces Major Hurdles
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Members of Congress from both parties have supported an emergency waiver, he said.
The White House is expected to send Congress a request for a funding package for Puerto Rico in the next few weeks, a senior congressional aide said. He added that he will also visit the U.S. Virgin Islands, which experienced extensive damage as well.
Michael Roberts, senior vice president and general counsel at Crowley, which benefits from Jones Act protections, said there is "a very steady pipeline of relief goods that is in process now and adding foreign-flag capacity and taking out US mariners who are doing this work would not help at all". "The limitation is going to be port capacity to offload and transfer cargo, not vessel availability", it said in a statement.
"We're looking for bottled water, non-perishable can goods, baby formula, diapers, toilet paper, and batteries", said Center spokesman Ron Mauch.
Since Puerto Rico is a commonwealth of the United States, it falls under the Jones Act and resources being sent in from other USA ports have to be carried on US ships. That and the Jones Act are why on Tuesday night, #CongressActNow became a Trending Topic on Twitter. I know many Puerto Ricans.
"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 said in the letter, a copy of which was seen by Reuters. "Now, more than ever, it is time to realize the devastating effect of this policy and implement a full repeal of this archaic and burdensome Act". These officials also stressed that the Jones Act is not interfering with the Defense Department's and FEMA's efforts to get goods and commodities to the island. Waivers must be based on whether or not the there are enough USA ships to keep up with shipping needs, which DHS is saying there are.