Puerto Rico has been hit hard by Hurricane Fiona, and looks to the U.S. for much needed help.
Puerto Rico has been hit hard by Hurricane Fiona, and looks to the U.S. for much needed help. Photo: Getty Images

Rep. Nydia Velazquez, others, call for DHS to waive Jones Act, allow for supplies to be shipped to Puerto Rico


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Septiembre 22, 2023

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Hurricane Fiona has taken its toll on Puerto Rico in recent days. It has further exposed the serious issues that plague the island that have not been addressed, such as its energy and power grid. 

Fiona also came almost five years after Hurricane Maria first hit. The island has been trying to rebuild since then, only to be hit again by a natural disaster. 

The hurricane left almost all of the island without power for days and now Congress is trying to find ways to help. Since the hurricanes first hit on the island, a ship headed towards a southern port on the island with much needed fuel and supplies has been unable to dock over a century-old law as the island waits for its authorization. 

The delay caused Puerto Rican Governor Pedro Pierluisi to intervene. He released a statement on Twitter.

“I have requested the personal intervention of the Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security so that a ship contracted by a private supplier, loaded with diesel and located near Puerto Rico, can unload the fuel for the benefit of our people,” he wrote. 

“Likewise, my administration continues to work to ensure the speeding up of shipments of diesel and gasoline to the island,” Pierluisi continued. 

After more than a week since Fiona first hit Puerto Rico, 40% of the island's power customers have been without power for almost a week now. The island has been unable to dock its much needed supplies over the Jones Act, an almost hundred-year-old shipping law. 

The law, also known as the Merchant Marine Act of 1920, requires that anything shipped between U.S. ports to be carried out by ships built primarily in America, and to have U.S. citizens as its owners and crews. A foreign ship with goods for Puerto Rico would first have to disembark in the mainland U.S. and change crews. 

In response to the dilemma, Rep. Nydia Velazquez, along with seven other members of congress, such as Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, and Rep. Juan Vargas, among others signed off on a letter sent to Department of Human Services Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, asking the Jones Act to be waived to allow for the ships to dock.

“I just led 7 Members of Congress to @SecMayorkas calling for the Jones Act to be temporarily waived to expedite supplies being shipped into the Island’s ports in order to accelerate Puerto Rico’s recovery from Hurricane Fiona,” wrote Velazquez on Twitter. “Waiving the Jones Act for a year will allow Puerto Rico to have more access to the oil needed for its power plants, food, medicines, clothing, and building supplies.” 

DHS responded on Monday, Sept. 26 with a statement to NBC News. 

“The Department of Homeland Security will continue to examine individual requests for Jones Act waivers on a case-by-case basis and in consultation with the Maritime Administration, Departments of Defense, and Energy,” it said. 

In the letter sent to DHS, lawmakers cited the loosening of Jones Act restrictions would allow the island more access to vital resources. 

“The island is now facing an unprecedented uphill battle to rebuild its homes, businesses, and communities. Temporarily loosening these requirements — for the express purpose of disaster recovery — will allow Puerto Rico to have more access to the oil needed for its power plants, food, medicines, clothing and building supplies,” the letter reads. 

Former President Donald Trump waived the Jones Act temporarily after Hurricane Maria in 2017. At the time, his administration had come under much controversy and pressure from Puerto Rican officials and mainland residents to do something. 

According to the Puerto Rican government’s emergency portal, as of Monday morning, Sept. 26, electricity had been restored to over 869,000 power customers, or 59% of all customers while about 84%, or over 1,115,000 customers, had their water service restored according to the Water and Sewer Authority. 

“We need these services,” Carmen Rodríguez, a community leader in the southern municipality of Ponce that saw neighborhoods flooded and homes damaged as a result of the hurricane, told NBC News. 

According to the Puerto Rican government, only 16% of power customers in Ponce had their electricity restored and Rodríguez said diesel was essential to keeping grocery stores, hospitals and health health centers operating as some businesses have temporarily closed or cut hours, as the fuel-filled ship has yet to dock. 

“This shouldn’t be happening. They should allow it to come in,” she said.

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