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Palmer and Velázquez introduce Puerto Rico Humanitarian Relief Act

By Brandon Moseley
Alabama Political Reporter

Thursday, U.S. Reps. Gary Palmer, R-Hoover, and Nydia Velázquez, D-N.Y., introduced HR3966, the Puerto Rico Humanitarian Relief Act, providing a five-year moratorium of the Merchant Marine Act of 1920, more commonly known as the Jones Act.

The Jones Act requires any goods shipped to Puerto Rico from a U.S. port be carried in a U.S. owned, U.S. crewed, U.S. built and U.S. flagged vessel. According to a 2010 study at the University of Puerto Rico, Puerto Rico loses $537 million every year due to the Jones Act.

The Puerto Rico Humanitarian Relief Act would provide relief from this burdensome regulation and allow Puerto Rico the opportunity to rebuild their island without added costs and delays caused by the requirements of the Jones Act.

“The Congress has the responsibility to act when enacted laws prove to be burdensome,” Palmer said in a statement. “This is especially true in a humanitarian crisis. Our bill provides Puerto Ricans with extended relief from the Jones Act to help them put their lives back together as they rebuild their homes, their communities and their infrastructure. The cost of goods in Puerto Rico is already substantially higher due to Jones Act related shipping costs, and, especially in a humanitarian crisis, every penny counts.”

“Puerto Rico has a long, difficult road ahead of it and the Jones Act will serve only to impede its physical and economic recovery,” Velázquez said. “As the Island struggles to rebuild, it should not be saddled with the burden of paying significantly more for construction materials and other goods, compared to the mainland. Moreover, a long term waiver of the Jones Act will stimulate economic activity. I have already called on the President to, at minimum, exempt Puerto Rico from the Jones Act for at least one year and I’m proud to co-author this bipartisan measure seeking a five-year waiver. Importantly, this bill also requires a full study of the Jones Act’s economic impact, so we have the empirical data to end this debate once and for all.”

According to a report from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, it costs $3,063 to ship a 20-foot container from the East Coast of the United States to Puerto Rico and $1504 to ship the same container to the nearby Dominican Republic — a destination not subject to the Jones Act.

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Palmer and Valezques claim that higher shipping costs could significantly delay efforts to rebuild its economy and rebuild the communities devastated by Hurricane Maria. In late September, President Donald Trump temporarily waived enforcement of the Jones Act in order to more easily get aid to the disaster-wrecked island.

The hurricane knocked out most of the power grid, destroyed most of the island’s telecommunications, destroyed much of the infrastructure and made the worst economic situation in the United States even worse.

Congressman Gary Palmer represents Alabama’s 6th Congressional District.

Brandon Moseley is a former reporter at the Alabama Political Reporter.

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