On Tuesday, Rep. Nydia M. Velázquez used her Facebook account to send one clear message to President Donald Trump: “Lives are on the line in Puerto Rico. President Trump’s action is too little, too late. We need a targeted federal response!” The message linked to a statement urging the Trump Administration to waive the Jones Act and to extend the period of time that the island is exempt from matching funds for Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) disaster relief. If you spend some time looking at the social media conversation surrounding Puerto Rico as it recovers from Hurricane Maria, it’s likely you’ve seen that just like Velázquez, those concerned about the future of the island are putting pressure on the federal government to do more.
The Trump Administration’s refusal to waive the Jones Act – a century-old shipping law that a New York Times op-ed called “The Law Strangling Puerto Rico” – has been heavily criticized. Decades ago, the US, afraid of German U-boats attacks, passed the Merchant Marine Act of 1920. The act allowed only ships manned by the US to carry goods and passengers from one US port to another. The act makes products more expensive for Puerto Ricans, and by not suspending the law, it adds another obstacle for a country that desperately needs supplies.
The government has suspended the law in the past, and did so just this month because of Hurricane Harvey and Hurricane Irma. That’s why a woman identified only as Jessica P. began a Change.org petition asking DHS to waive the Jones Act. “The Jones Act (Merchant Marine Act 1920, 46 U.S.C. § 883) prevents foreign ships from carrying cargo between the US mainland and noncontiguous parts of the US like Puerto Rico. Foreign ships can’t stop in Puerto Rico to offload goods. Instead, goods are dropped off on the mainland and brought to the island on US flag ships,” the page reads. Since the Safety Harbor, Florida resident started the petition, it has received more than 200,000 signatures.
The government has also faced condemnation for not moving quickly enough on a comprehensive aid package for Puerto Rico. While FEMA is on the ground providing life-saving assistance, the island needs a long-term plan to get back on its feet. It could take weeks until a financial aid package comes through, a senior congressional source, who asked to remain anonymous, told Mother Jones. “So the next step is the administration sending another request to Congress,” the aide said. “We’re hearing the first or second week of October.” That and the Jones Act are why on Tuesday night, #CongressActNow became a Trending Topic on Twitter.
Check out a few powerful tweets below:
— Mariela (@marielaj) September 27, 2017
Text "Puerto Rico" to 73179 to urge your member of Congress to demand the #JonesAct be waived. Every day the situation gets worse. #UnidosPorPuertoRico #CongressActNow #WeAreUSCitizens pic.twitter.com/pwKMpGbEkz
— Voto Latino (@votolatino) September 27, 2017
— Eliel Cruz (@elielcruz) September 27, 2017
— Margaret Zamos-Monteith (@MZamosMonteith) September 27, 2017