City Hall, NY – New York City Council Speaker Adrienne Adams and the Council’s members of Puerto Rican descent — Deputy Speaker Diana Ayala, Council Member Rafael Salamanca, Council Member Carlina Rivera, Council Member Marjorie Velázquez, Council Member Amanda Farías, Council Member Tiffany Cabán, and Council Member Alexa Avilés — called for the federal government to provide a waiver to the Jones Act for Puerto Rico in order to help the island recover from the aftermath of Hurricane Fiona. The request was made in a letter to President Biden, Senate Majority Leader Schumer, and House Speaker Pelosi. 

“A waiver for Puerto Rico during this time will allow a faster and cheaper supply of essentials to reach the islands,” the letter states. “Their isolation from the mainland of the country makes rebuilding particularly difficult and expensive and so we should do everything in our power to mitigate these issues.” 

The letter also urged that the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) reduce bureaucracy that undermines people’s access to aid and its equitable distribution. FEMA’s own data has shown disparities in assistance for low-income, Black, and Latino disaster survivors as a result of administrative burdens and requirements, as well as a lack of diversity within the agency. 

“Additionally, we urge that FEMA ease any unnecessary red tape that will slow the pace of recovery and support for the people of Puerto Rico, as well as ensure an equitable response,” the letter continues. “FEMA’s own data has shown disparities in assistance1 for low-income, Black and Latino disaster survivors. Administrative burdens and requirements often present the greatest barriers to communities that are least able to overcome them to access aid. It is important that assistance and recovery funds be released quickly to those in greatest need without excessive bureaucratic burdens.” 

The letter can be accessed in full here

Background on The Jones Act 

The Merchant Marine Act of 1920, also known as the Jones Act, requires that goods shipped from one American port to another be transported on a ship that is American-built, American owned and crewed by U.S. citizens or permanent residents.  

The goal of the legislation was to ensure the existence of a thriving US-owned commercial shipping industry, a topic that had become salient during World War I, when blockades underscored the close link between maritime commerce and warfare. 

One section of the law requires goods transported by ship from one US destination to another to be carried on US-flagged ships that were constructed in the United States, owned by US citizens, and crewed by US legal permanent residents and citizens. The idea is that in case of war there should always be a big supply of American-made, American-owned, American-crewed ships that could be counted on (and, if necessary, conscripted) to supply American commerce even in hazardous conditions. Since global oceanic shipbuilding is more dominant overseas, this makes them uncompetitive in global terms. In the event of a disaster, the Jones Act stifles ships to be able to mobilize quickly, delaying any shipment of goods and supplies.