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Congressman Luis Gutierrez

Representing the 4th District of Illinois

Reps. Meng, Velázquez, Soto, Gutiérrez, Serrano Introduce Legislation to Permit Waivers to the Jones Act for Humanitarian Relief

September 27, 2017
Press Release
Legislation would help all U.S. islands receive necessary supplies following natural disasters
WASHINGTON, DC – Today, U.S. Reps. Grace Meng (D-NY), Nydia Velázquez (D-NY), Darren Soto (D-FL), Luis V. Gutiérrez (D-IL), and José Serrano (D-NY), in response to the humanitarian crisis in Puerto Rico, introduced the Humanitarian Disaster Relief Act of 2017 to permit waiving the Jones Act for humanitarian relief efforts.
“It is clear we need to adjust the Jones Act to permit waivers for humanitarian relief,” said Rep. Meng. “Puerto Rico has been devastated by Hurricane Maria, and just as we wouldn’t stand for delays in delivery of humanitarian supplies and increased costs for the continental United States, we cannot stand for it in Puerto Rico or for our fellow Americans on other U.S. islands. Our common sense legislation would allow for waivers to help all U.S. islands receive the supplies they need after natural disasters, and I urge my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to support it.”   
“This is a humanitarian crisis and Puerto Rico needs all the help it can get,” said Rep. Velázquez. “This includes ensuring any and all maritime assets can access the Island to deliver aid, regardless of their Jones Act status. Furthermore, given the devastation from Maria, it is clear that Puerto Rico’s already struggling economy will face a difficult road ahead. I’m proud to cosponsor this legislation, which would provide another avenue for lifting this bureaucratic barrier and helping Puerto Ricans get the assistance they need.”  
"Our nation just endured deadly hurricanes, which caused tragic destruction in Florida, Puerto Rico, Texas, and the U.S. Virgin Islands,” said Rep. Soto. “Damage to our infrastructure has led to complete power outages and massive flooding, at times making it difficult to deliver basic supplies to those in desperate need. This is unacceptable!  I'm proud to join my colleagues in introducing legislation to provide humanitarian relief to our American citizens when they need it most. In time of crisis, it is our responsibility to act swiftly with as much support as we can.”
“What is more important, getting aid to people in need or policies to maintain profits for shipping companies?” said Rep. Gutiérrez. “Let the aid flow from wherever it is available to wherever it is needed most, without bureaucratic or man-made barriers.”
“When Harvey and Irma hit the United States, President Trump didn’t hesitate to temporarily waive the Jones Act for Texas and Florida,” said Rep. Serrano. “There is no reason he shouldn’t do the same in the case of Puerto Rico and its 3.4 million US citizens. With the Administration blaming the technical language of the statute for being unable to waive the Act, this legislation will simply add humanitarian relief efforts as an allowable justification for a waiver. Taking this small step would help speed the delivery of humanitarian relief and lower the price of basic necessities like fuel. I urge my Republican colleagues to join us in supporting this important piece of legislation for the people of Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.”
Currently, waivers to the Jones Act may only be provided in the “interest of national defense.” The Humanitarian Disaster Relief Act of 2017 would allow for waivers in the interest of humanitarian relief efforts as well.
The Jones Act, or the Merchant Marine Act of 1920, requires that ships transporting goods between American ports be built primarily in the United States and have U.S. citizens as their owners and crews. As a result, Puerto Ricans often pay more for disaster supplies, and the number of ships that can deliver much needed fuel, food, water, medical supplies, and infrastructure is limited.
A copy of the bill text can be found here.