The Jones Act waiver for Puerto Rico expired Sunday night, and “it is not being extended at this time,” Department of Homeland Security spokesman David Lapan told HuffPost on Monday.
DHS had temporarily waived the Jones Act ― an arguably outdated law that imposes exorbitant shipping costs on the U.S. island ― on Sept. 28. The waiver has meant that Puerto Rico has been able to import food, fuel and supplies more quickly, and for half the cost, in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria.
With the 1920 law back in effect, the island will go back to paying much higher shipping costs to import supplies. The Jones Act requires that all goods shipped between U.S. ports be carried by U.S.-owned and operated ships, which are more expensive vessels than others in the global marketplace. That’s meant that Puerto Rico pays double the costs for goods from the U.S. mainland compared with neighboring islands ― and that U.S. vessels are making bank.
The return to higher shipping costs won’t help Puerto Rico as it tries to climb out of economic devastation. Nearly half of the 3.4 million Americans on the island still don’t have drinking water since Maria hit nearly three weeks ago. Just 15 percent have electricity. Many people still haven’t heard from loved ones, and at least 39 deaths have been attributed to the storm.
Despite the DHS position, Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rossello said Monday night that he wants another extension of the Jones Act waiver.
“I think we should have it,” Rossello told CBS News’ David Begnaud. “In this emergency phase, while we’re looking to sustain and save lives, we should have all of the assets at hand.”
Lapan said DHS is “always prepared to review requests on a case-by-case basis and respond quickly” to possible waivers of the Jones Act. But those decisions have to be related to national defense, he said, and are not driven by cost-related matters.
With President Trump and the mayor of San Juan in a war of words this weekend over the relief efforts in hurricane-battered Puerto Rico and a stream of harrowing images coming out of the island and its neighbors in the Caribbean, it’s easy to feel gloomy about the response to the disaster.
But while dysfunction and ugly politics have been capturing the headlines, companies and celebrities have been mobilizing to aid Puerto Rico. Many of them have been making a ruckus on behalf of those suffering without power, clean water, or access to medical care, but at least one big name has been keeping his efforts relatively quiet–Elon Musk.
Bringing power back to Puerto Rico
With the entirety of Puerto Rico’s electrical grid down and some places expected to be without electricity for months, residents of the island are in desperate need of alternative sources of power. That’s something Musk’s Tesla knows plenty about, and thankfully for Puerto Rico’s 3.5 million residents, the company is happy to help.
“As soon as the storm passed, Tesla began sending hundreds of Powerwall battery systems that can be paired with solar panels to the devastated island in an effort to restore electric power there,” reports Fortune, “and the shipments of Powerwall battery systems are continuing.”
There are also Tesla employees on the ground helping install the systems, the article goes on to report, and Musk himself personally donated $250,000 to the relief effort. Some even see the possibility of a small silver lining in these efforts, suggesting that the devastation of the traditional power grid could provide Puerto Rico with an opportunity to build a more sustainable system.
It should also be noted that Musk and Tesla, while providing a characteristically innovative response to the disaster, are far from the only big companies lending aid. Lots of other businesses, from Starbucks to Facebook, are also donating to the relief efforts.
“With 90 percent of cell towers on the island out of service, people can’t get in touch with their loved ones–and it’s harder for rescue workers to coordinate relief efforts. We’re working to get Puerto Rico back online. We’re sending the Facebook connectivity team to deliver emergency telecommunications assistance to get the systems up and running,” Mark Zuckerberg announced in a Facebook post, for instance.
Want to do your own bit to help Puerto Ricans pick up the pieces after Hurricane Maria? Here are some of the best charities to donate to, according to charity rating site Charity Navigator.
Facebook has dispatched a “connectivity team” to supply emergency telecommunications support to Puerto Rico, much of which has been rendered a communications black spot after Hurricane Maria battered the island last week.
“Communication is critical during a disaster,” Facebook founder Zuckerberg wrote in a post Wednesday. “With 90% of cell towers on the island out of service, people can’t get in touch with their loved ones—and it’s harder for rescue workers to coordinate relief efforts.”
In addition to sending a team to bring Puerto Rico back online, Zuckerberg announced that Facebook is splitting a donation of $1.5 million between the World Food Program and Net Hope, a consortium of nonprofits and tech companies that Facebook previously collaborated with in response to the Ebola crisis in West Africa.
Puerto Rico’s population of 3.4 million American citizens is in the throes of a humanitarian crisis in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria, which killed 16 people and ravaged the islands electricity grid. Only 11 of the island’s 69 hospitals have power or fuel supply and almost half of the population is without potable water, according to a FEMA briefing issued Tuesday morning.
Hillary Clinton is calling on the Trump administration to send the U.S. Navy to help Puerto Rico in its relief efforts after Hurricane Maria tore through the U.S. territory, leaving destruction and damage in its wake
Clinton in a tweet on Sunday urged President Trump and Defense Secretary James Mattis to deploy the Navy, including the United States Naval Ship Comfort, immediately in order to help those on the island reeling from the Category 4 storm’s aftermath.
“These are American citizens,” she added, along with a retweet of the images of the faces impacted by the destruction.
President Trump, Sec. Mattis, and DOD should send the Navy, including the USNS Comfort, to Puerto Rico now. These are American citizens. https://t.co/J2FVg4II0n
— Hillary Clinton (@HillaryClinton) September 24, 2017
Hurricane Maria brought large amounts of destruction as the whipping winds and relentless rain pummeled the islands in the Caribbean, claiming the lives of at least 19 people in the region.
About 3.4 million residents in Puerto Rico are living without electricity after the storm knocked out the power on Wednesday. Officials are warning that it could be months before they see the lights flicker back on as repair efforts just begin to get afoot.
Federal emergency relief resources are already strained after a wave of powerful storms hit the U.S. over the past few months including Hurricane Harvey and Irma.
Trump spoke with the governors of Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands on Thursday, a day after declaring the impact of Hurricane Maria a major disaster.
Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rosselló called the Category 4 storm the “most devastating storm to hit the island this century, if not in modern history.”
Puerto Rico on Sunday overwhelmingly voted for statehood. But Congress, the only body that can approve new states, will ultimately decide whether the status of the US commonwealth changes.
Ninety-seven percent of the votes in the nonbinding referendum favored statehood, an increase over the results of a 2012 referendum, official results from the State Electoral Commission show. It was the fifth such vote on statehood.
“Today, we the people of Puerto Rico are sending a strong and clear message to the US Congress … and to the world … claiming our equal rights as American citizens, Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rosselló said in a news release.
What do we really know about Puerto Rico?
When outsiders think of Puerto Rico, a couple of things probably come to mind: It’s a small island in the Caribbean. People mostly speak Spanish there. It’s not a US state but has American ties. They were the Sharks in “West Side Story.” (Wait, maybe they were the Jets?) But there’s so much more to know.
Some Puerto Ricans are raring to cozy up with America to jump-start a flagging economy; meanwhile, some residents would just as soon maintain the status quo, and others would prefer to break ties altogether.
Momentum has been building for the island shaped like a postage stamp to join the union as the 51st state, so it’s probably smart to start reading up about America’s cousin to the south — its background, economic status and heritage.
Step back in time
The Taíno Indians already called the island home when Christopher Columbus landed there in 1493, and it was settled around 1508 by Spanish explorer Juan Ponce de León.
It was eventually named Puerto Rico, which means “rich port” and became a Spanish colony for about 400 years.
The Spanish mined for gold and established agricultural plantations with slave labor, but the colony eventually became more valuable as a military outpost.
The island came under US control in 1898 after the Spanish-American War.
What’s a commonwealth?
A 1950 federal law helped clarify the relationship between the United States and Puerto Rico, paving the way for a public vote on its new constitution. After it was approved in 1952 by the people of Puerto Rico, President Harry Truman, Congress and the Puerto Rican governor, the island became an official US commonwealth.
What’s the difference between a commonwealth and a territory? Not too much, except that commonwealths have their own constitutions. Puerto Rican residents have been US citizens since 1917 (thanks to the Jones Act), so they receive many of the same benefits and protections, with just a few differences.
For one, they can truthfully say, “Don’t blame me, I didn’t vote for them,” when discussing the US presidency. While voters can participate in primary elections, they can’t vote for president in the general election. In 2016, 75% of Puerto Ricans voted for Marco Rubio in the Republican primary (and nearly 14% for Donald Trump) versus Hillary Clinton’s 61% of the Democratic vote.
Puerto Rico has a nonvoting delegate in Washington, called a resident commissioner. Back home, Puerto Rico has its own governor and legislative body.
A definite plus to living on the island and one reason some might prefer things as they are: Puerto Ricans only have to pay federal income taxes on work they’ve done in the States, and not at home.
As a commonwealth, Puerto Rico gets US military protection and receives federal funding from the government for highways and social programs, just not as much as an official state gets.
Citizens pay into Social Security and have access to Medicare and Medicaid, but instead of being eligible for Supplemental Security Income assistance, low-income, elderly and blind or disabled people can get help from a similar program run by the US Department of Health and Human Services.
There could be a lot of changes in federal programs if Puerto Rico joins Team USA as a state, such as those for student loans, the GI Bill, Pell Grants and assistance programs for families and children.
Statehood, independence or somewhere in between
Options on the weekend referendum included remaining a commonwealth, becoming a state, entering “free association” or becoming an independent nation. Free association is an official affiliation with the United States where Puerto Rico would still receive military assistance and funding.
Four plebiscites, or popular votes, have been held to decide the commonwealth’s status in relation to America. Three of four times, Puerto Rico residents voted against statehood (in 1967, 1993 and 1998).
In a 2012 referendum the majority of voters for the first time chose statehood, but it didn’t go anywhere. (Some argued the results should have been considered a “no” since more than one-third of voters left the part about alternative status blank.)
Jorge Benitez, a political scientist at the University of Puerto Rico-Rio Piedras, said the only definite takeaway from the 2012 vote results at the time was that the people of Puerto Rico wanted a change in status. “It isn’t clear what change we want, but we want change,” he said.
“I think people just came to realize that the current relationship simply does not create the number of jobs that we need,” Puerto Rico Secretary of State Kenneth McClintock said after that vote nearly five years ago.
In 2012, 6% of voters opted to cut ties with the United States.