Members of Congress Continue to Discuss Relief for Puerto Rico

Members of Congress continued to express their support for Puerto Rico in remarks on Tuesday, October 3.

In the Senate, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY), Energy and Natural Resources Committee Chair Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), and Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL) made statements.

lIn the House of Representatives,  he following representatives spoke out about Puerto Rico: Rep. Luis Gutiérrez (D-IL), Rep. Adriano Espaillat (D-NY), Rep. John Garamendi (D-NY), and Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-WA).

Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY):

Mr. President, the President is on his way to Puerto Rico to survey the hurricane damage personally and see how the Federal Government can continue to assist in the recovery efforts. Our thoughts remain with the hurricane victims as they continue to piece their lives and communities back together. During his visit, the President will have the opportunity to see the resilience of the Puerto Rican people. He can also witness the overwhelming support of their fellow Americans who have volunteered to help deliver relief.

Much of that support has come from the military, including the men and women of Kentucky’s own Air and Army National Guard, who have helped bring relief to Texas, Florida, the Virgin Islands, and Puerto Rico. Just last week, the 101st Airborne Combat Aviation Brigade deployed from Fort Campbell in my home State to help support relief efforts in Puerto Rico. President Trump will also have the chance to see the groundswell of generosity from our communities. Many donated money, food, and other essentials. Other brave Americans left their homes behind to go to the disaster sites to offer aid.

I am especially proud to recognize some of the Kentuckians who have volunteered to join the relief efforts in the wake of these storms. The Kentucky Board of Emergency Medical Services selected eight fire departments from around my State to send to Florida to assist local operations after Hurricane Irma. Working 12-hour shifts, these firefighters responded to 911 calls in Tampa as residents began to move back into their homes. Throughout my State, churches and nonprofits sent volunteers to help however they could. One religious organization arranged more than 200 volunteers to help flood victims in Texas and Florida. In all, they served over 78,000 meals, helped with laundry, and distributed many bottles of water. The Kentucky Humane Society stepped in to care for pets that were affected, and chapters of the American Red Cross from across the Commonwealth have mobilized to help where needed. The Kentucky Association of Electric Cooperatives sent dozens of linemen to Georgia to help restore power after Hurricane Irma.

The joint effort from 17 of our State’s electric cooperatives represents one of the largest mutual deployments in Kentucky’s history. These Kentuckians, along with so many more, have generously given their time and labor to help their fellow Americans during this time of suffering. And they aren’t alone. Compassionate men and women from around the country have joined the cause to help ease the pain of the victims. Along with my colleagues in the Senate, I am committed to continuing to do our part to support relief efforts with FEMA, the Department of Defense, and the rest of the administration. We will soon receive a supplemental funding request from the administration. When we do, I expect Congress will act quickly to ensure that the men and women providing critical support in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands have the resources they need. The Senate will continue to stand with those suffering from these devastating storms.

Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY):

Mr. President, on another matter, the crisis in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, today, President Trump will be visiting Puerto Rico nearly 2 weeks after Hurricane Maria made landfall in Puerto Rico. In my view, the lateness of his visit is indicative of his leadership and the Federal response to this humanitarian crisis. It has been slow, it hasn’t been well coordinated or sure-footed, and it has been too late in coming. President Obama visited Sandy two days after the storms hit. President Trump himself was much quicker to visit Texas when Harvey hit. Two weeks is too long. It is better than nothing.

That is for sure. But it is too long. It sends a signal that maybe he believes what happened in Puerto Rico is less important than what happened in Texas or in Florida. In the lead-up to Hurricanes Harvey and Irma, President Trump was tweeting on an almost daily basis, prevailing on Texans and Floridians to stay safe from the storm. That was the right thing to do. But when it came to Puerto Rico, there were no tweets or public statements in the lead-up to the storm, and it took several days to even mention Puerto Rico in his tweets. Even then, he had mostly blame for Puerto Rico or pats on the back for his own administration. He kept decrying fake news, but he couldn’t fool the American people. They saw on TV what was happening and the devastation that stayed for so long.

Let me give a comparison. The President said that, because it is an island, it is harder to get to. It is, but when Haiti was struck by a massive earthquake in 2010, the United States didn’t wait for things to get worse. We ramped up military and disaster assistance quickly and responded with an overwhelming amount of support. Within 2 days of the earthquake in Haiti, 8,000 troops were in route. Within 2 weeks, 22,000 troops were in route with 300 helicopters assisting relief efforts. Even to this moment, the number for Puerto Rico is much smaller. That shows that the response has not been good enough. Why was his response for Puerto Rico so much less than the response for Haiti? So we need a much better response on the ground in Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands.

I would say to President Trump, I am glad you are going— glad you are going—but this is your chance to make up for what has been a plodding start. When the President visits Puerto Rico today, he should not get into any political fights or blame Puerto Rico for its problems. The President needs to figure out what is wrong and what else has to be done and marshal the resources of our government and our military to fix it. The 3.5 million American citizens in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands are counting on their President. These are American citizens.

Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK):

Mr. President, I want to speak on another matter, and that is the tragedy related to natural disasters we have seen visited on our country, the devastating impacts that Hurricanes Irma and Maria have had on the U.S. Virgin Islands and in Puerto Rico, the current relief efforts that are underway on those islands, and how we might help in the long term to rebuild, particularly as it relates to their electric grid and their power sector. Mr. President, as the Presiding Officer serves on the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, I have the honor of being the chairman of that Committee, and that is the committee of jurisdiction for our territories. Our committee’s history dates back to 1816, when it was then called the Committee on Public Lands. The acquisition of Puerto Rico, the Philippines, and Guam in 1898, through the Treaty of Paris, led to the creation of the Committee on Insular Affairs in 1899. The U.S. Virgin Islands were included in that committee’s jurisdiction following their purchase from Denmark in 1917. In 1946, the Committee on Public Lands and the Committee on Insular Affairs merged to form the Committee on Interior and Insular Affairs.

In 1977, the committees were again reorganized, leading to the current structure of the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources. Our committee has had the proud distinction of working with the territories for the last 70-plus years. Certainly, following Hurricanes Irma and Maria, we are committed to upholding our responsibilities to the people of Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. Perhaps it is because I was born in a territory—I need to actually look this up; it may be that I am the only Member of Congress or Member in the Senate who was actually born in a territory—but I feel an affinity. One would not think there is much connection between a small island territory like Puerto Rico and the large landmass that we have in Alaska, but in many ways, Alaska is also islanded in the sense that we are not part of the continental 48. So I do follow with great interest and care how Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands are included. With the current focus almost entirely on Puerto Rico right now, it can seem like a distant memory that only 2 weeks ago, before Hurricane Maria, we had Hurricane Irma, which hit the islands of St. Thomas and St. John as a category 5 hurricane. One category 5 is bad enough, but then to have a second category 5 hurricane hit just 2 weeks later, this time impacting the island of St. Croix, is almost unfathomable. The devastation we have seen in both the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico can seem overwhelming.

Relief operations for the islands are different from what you have with the mainland. When you recognize how you move to accommodate relief, everything has to be brought in by ship or by plane. You don’t have the convoys of trucks rolling down the highway from an adjoining State. You don’t have the ability to take alternative routes to reach the affected areas. Once goods are delivered to ports, for instance, it is another challenge, then, to get them from the port for inland distribution. Even under normal operating conditions, moving the amount of containers that have flooded into the territories would be a challenge, but when you add into it the debris, the downed power lines, the washed-out bridges and roads, the lack of power, and the driver shortages, the challenges become colossal. Then you have other limiting factors. You have competition for hotel rooms and other lodging as you bring in relief workers to go to the islands while refugees who have lost their homes try to leave. Again, the logistics are almost overwhelming; it is a logistical nightmare. Despite these very considerable hurdles, we do see that progress is being made. According to recent reports from the Army Corps of Engineers, Federal and local response crews have been working to reopen the ports and runways.

In some cases, we have seen sunken ships that need to be removed before a port can begin operations again. In Puerto Rico, 13 of 16 ports are open or open with restrictions. In the U.S. Virgin Islands, five of nine ports are open or open with restrictions. In addition, 15 of 17 priority dams in Puerto Rico have already been inspected. In the case of Guajataca Dam, it is in the process of being reinforced. The dam’s spillway continues to erode. Rainfall has increased the water level in the reservoir. We have seen that the debris and the downed power lines need to be removed to allow helicopters to place 44 concrete barriers within the spillway channel. In fact, 900 super sandbags are on their way. Pumps and piping are being procured to help decrease the water level. There are a lot of hands on deck there. For electricity, as of October 1, 5 percent of customers in Puerto Rico have had their power restored. The Puerto Rico electric utility expects to have power restored to 15 percent of customers over the next 2 weeks. I looked at this aspect of it and recognize that it is still pretty warm in Puerto Rico. I checked the weather this afternoon, and it is 87 degrees. Over the next couple of days, it will be 93 degrees. Making sure that folks have power, have an ability to keep fans, to have air conditioning—this is critical. Assessments show significant damage to the transmission and distribution systems, so, again, a great deal of work is yet underway there.

In the Virgin Islands, 15 percent of customers in St. Thomas and 10 percent of customers in St. Croix have had their power restored. This includes the airports and the hospitals. On the hospitals, I would note that both the hospitals in the U.S. Virgin Islands—one in St. Thomas and one in St. Croix—have sustained heavy damage and may need to be replaced. Again, long term, moving forward, this is critical infrastructure. We do know that in the immediate term, the primary relief that Congress can provide is through our appropriations process. We will soon be considering another tranche of disaster relief funds so that those impacted by these hurricanes have the food, water, and medicine they need as recovery efforts continue. Other options, such as making the rum tax cover-over payments permanent and increasing or lifting the cap on community disaster loans may also need to be considered as ways to get the islands back on their feet.

Another part of our responsibility, though, is to look at potential long-term solutions to persistent problems. In the case of Puerto Rico, it is their antiquated electric grid and power generation system. I have had many conversations with many colleagues in these past couple of weeks. I am concerned that current disaster recovery rules may mandate that the damaged or destroyed entity be restored with similar material, compared to its condition prior to the disaster. What may seem like a good, general rule of thumb in some scenarios, like this one—I don’t think it makes a lot of sense. Why would we consider spending hundreds of millions of dollars to rebuild what was an inefficient, unreliable electric power grid in Puerto Rico? Making sure that we do right going forward is important for us. I am going to be meeting with officials with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

They have been tasked by FEMA with rebuilding Puerto Rico’s electricity grid. I am going to meet with the Army Corps and the Department of Energy to see if there is a way to modernize Puerto Rico’s grid during its rebuild, whether by administrative or legislative action. I think we need to look at different considerations moving forward. There has been a discussion about whether it makes more sense to bury transmission lines rather than rebuild towers. We need to look at micro-grids and consider whether they should be developed to provide power to communities throughout the island even if the island-wide grid is down. This is something our committee has been keenly focused on—the application of micro-grids and how they might be better utilized.

I would note on this matter that the urban area of Mayaguez is currently receiving power from the hydro-gas plant that is located within its municipality. It is essentially its own micro-grid. But the damaged transmission lines prevent electricity from moving to other municipalities across the island. There are other considerations, including the role that distributed generation plays. Can these Federal entities work with the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority, PREPA, to develop a demonstration project for the island that would make the grid more efficient, more reliable, reduce the cost of electricity to consumers? These are all things that need to be considered. We had a hearing in the Energy Committee this morning on energy storage technologies, and it was mentioned there that regional technology demonstrations might be particularly helpful for Puerto Rico at this time.

I intend to visit Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands with other Members a few weeks from now. We know President Trump is there today. We are going to wait until the situation has stabilized just a bit more to allow for these relief efforts to continue. When we have an opportunity to observe the situation ourselves, I think it is worth noting that we will, on the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, be holding a hearing on the impacts of Hurricanes Irma and Maria on both Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, and I anticipate we will be doing that in the coming weeks. We want to look at not only the damage caused and where recovery efforts stand but also lessons learned as well as opportunities moving forward as to how we can rebuild Puerto Rico’s electric grid to better than it was before so it does have a resiliency and it does have a sustainability that I think is imperative moving forward. We recognize that the islands have faced a real tragedy in this natural disaster, but, from this, can we work quickly to stabilize things in the short term but allow this to be an opportunity to think about Puerto Rico’s long-term energy future—an energy future that is more resilient and is more sustainable.

So our thoughts and prayers are with all who were impacted by these incredibly powerful storms as they dig out, as they rebuild, as they restart their lives, and just as we will take care of the people of Texas and Louisiana and Florida, I want to make sure the people of Puerto Rico and the people of the U.S. Virgin Islands know we stand united with them during these exceptionally difficult times and that we will work with them as partners to make their islands stronger, more resilient, and better prepared for whatever the future may bring them.

Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL):

Mr. President, I am the Senator from Florida, along with my colleague Marco Rubio. We, of course, have been at the forefront of this terrible tragedy that is going on in Puerto Rico, and I want to comment on that. By the way, speaking of bipartisanship, there is a good example. Senator Rubio and I, when our State was hit by Irma, spent 3 days, going around together, showing that we were shoulder to shoulder trying to help Floridians overcome the tragedy that had just befallen them. We dished out food together. We went and surveyed the floods. We went into the poor, little cities. We went and thanked university students who had rescued the elderly, the frail, when they were abandoned. We went all across the State. The day after the storm, we went first into the Keys to see the destruction there. Senator Rubio and I have been joined at the hip. When it comes to looking at what is happening in Puerto Rico, it is pretty obvious. Last week, a week had passed since the storm. In fact, the supplies were stacking up, but they were stacking up in the ports. They were not able to get out into the interior of the island. The two of us were pretty strong in our words; that you have to get the most capable organization in to do that when in fact it is almost like combat conditions, and that is the U.S. military.

Finally, Wednesday night of last week, they sent me a three-star general who started to get it organized. Now we are seeing it distributed out, but it is going to take more because it is an island that is just absolutely devastated. It is going to take a long time to recover, and it is going to take a lot more money. Remember, these are our fellow American citizens. We saw the devastation in Florida. Now the continuing hardship is being tolled in Puerto Rico. It is a population where half are without drinking water, only 5 percent— and this is 2 weeks after the storm—of the electricity grid is restored, and cash is in short supply. Whereas, in Florida we saw the flooded streets, the downed trees, the crushed cars, the flipped over mobile homes, limited access to critical supplies like gasoline. Property damage was everywhere, and it was the entire State. What we are seeing is—multiply that many fold, and that is what we are seeing in Puerto Rico.

We are working on a supplemental funding bill. Remember that right after the first storm in Texas, we passed a $15 billion emergency supplemental appropriations bill. That is going to run out within the next few days so we have to have another supplemental funding bill. As you can imagine, now it is not just Texas and Florida, but it is the Virgin Islands, it is Puerto Rico, and there are some other States as well. We are going to need to help the people cover the cost of recovery, and we are going to need to jump-start the local economy in those areas hardest hit by the storms. Today I am going to introduce a piece of legislation. I call it the National Disaster Tax Relief Act, which would give people affected by these storms some much needed tax relief. This is in the shadow of the conversations taking place, as we speak, in a hearing—which I have just come from—in the Finance Committee about future reform of the Federal Tax Code.

The bill I am introducing today would do four things: One, it would let businesses and farmers immediately write off their cleanup costs, not just their replacement costs. For example, the Florida citrus growers in the central part of the State— and it was finally going to be a good news story on our citrus crop—half of the citrus buffeted by the wind is on the ground. Go further south into Southwest Florida, 75 percent of the citrus is on the ground. What this would do is allow the citrus growers to be able to, in the first year, write off the costs— expenses, in other words—of removing the downed trees, not just the cost of a new tree. That is especially important to citrus growers all over the United States because they are already hurting from a plant disease, a bacteria known as greening, which kills the citrus tree in 5 years.

Therefore, there are a number of these groves that have been abandoned, but it is valuable land. We need to give an incentive to the citrus grower to be able to go in and plow under that citrus growth and replant—the immediate expensing of that plowing under, plus the replanting of what we think are hardier varieties of citrus that are more resistant to this disease, this bacteria called greening. We think that would be a huge incentive to try to save the citrus industry not only in my State but in Texas, Arizona, California. There is citrus also in Louisiana and some in other Southern States. The second thing the bill does is it gives taxpayers the ability to exempt State and local disaster mitigation payments from Federal taxes, and it lets them save for the next big storm tax-free. That would be in a catastrophe savings account.

It would allow people to save tax-free $150,000 to cover things not covered by insurance. In Southwest Florida, there are a lot of seawalls that cave in, seawalls that are extremely expensive to rebuild and repair. This tax-free account would allow them to put away savings for that and other kinds of costs of remediation. They go out, and they try to save their home by getting tarps on the roof, making certain repairs until they can get the replacement, and the insurance can pay for it. Expensing of those items in the Tax Code would certainly be that incentive. The bill also includes extra infrastructure financing for areas damaged by the storms; for example, help for low-income housing needs and other infrastructure needs that are so important to economic recovery.

The fourth thing the bill does is it includes tax incentives for Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands and extends tax benefits that are available on the mainland but not in the territories like the full child tax credit. Why should we treat our American citizens in a territory any differently tax-wise on a child tax credit than we treat our citizens on the mainland, the main 50 States? It shouldn’t be. It doesn’t make sense. What is happening in Puerto Rico should concern every American. Governor Rossello has warned of a humanitarian crisis if we do not quickly move to alleviate this situation. The Coast Guard is working with FEMA and others to bring in drinking water and other critical supplies as well. Additional work is being done to restore power. Generators are being shipped in to help manage the load at the airport, and there are 30 flights per day now, which is projected to grow to 60 flights in the coming days. Meanwhile, as the evacuations continue, we don’t want to leave Puerto Rico in tatters. We have to rebuild. That is going to be an expensive cost to pay.

As we are going into a supplemental package for all of these storm-affected areas, and since the utilities in Puerto Rico were so out-of-date and so arcane, let’s think creatively. In remote villages, let’s supply photo voltaic cells to generate electricity as a backup because another storm is going to come and the power lines are going to go down. Let’s think creatively as we help these areas rebuild. We are working on this supplemental package to get additional aid to those suffering, and I am hopeful that what I have suggested here as a tax incentive will be a part of that conversation. Our country is hurting. We should be doing everything we can to help it heal. Now, not only are we healing from coming out of some ferocious storms, but now we have another grim reminder that, in America, we are not treating each other as we would want to be treated. Something is wrong in the psyche of some, so that whatever the motivation is, there would be mass execution. I hope we will soon have a very serious conversation about the direction of this country.

Rep. Luis Gutiérrez (D-IL):

Madam Speaker, I just returned from Puerto Rico, and to start my remarks, I would like to say a few words in Spanish, the language of Puerto Rico, and then I will switch back to English. I will provide a translation to the desk. (English translation of the statement made in Spanish is as follows:)

My beloved Puerto Rico, you are not alone. We hear your cries for help and the full strength of the American government and military is finally coming to help. It has been slow and no one has been as frustrated as I am that the response did not happen with the urgency and priority that Puerto Ricans—and every human being who is suffering—deserve. I tell my colleagues what I saw and what you told me while I was there. I will work with them immediately, and make sure that this Congress treats Puerto Rico fairly and generously. And I am not alone. The other Puerto Ricans and the Congressional Hispanic Caucus are working with the leadership of the House to put together an aid package. Cities and towns, Mayors and Governors from across the country are making their communities available to you so that you have a safe place to be while the rescue and recovery and rebuilding continues. And standing with the Mayor of Chicago just yesterday, he said he wants the City of Chicago to be a place where any and all Puerto Ricans who need a safe place can come and we will help you resettle. You are not alone.

Madam Speaker, I flew to Puerto Rico on Friday to see what was happening on the ground with my own eyes. Madam Speaker, it was worse than I imagined, and it broke my heart to see my beloved island so destroyed and so scared for its future and feeling so alone and isolated. There were dead animals all over the place, and people were so desperate for food and water. Anyone who is sick or elderly is finding it hard or impossible to get medicine and medical care. Things are improving day by day, and the number of helicopters flying missions of mercy to the interior of the island is increasing. But almost everyone has no electrical power. Almost everyone has little or no food and trouble finding it. Almost everyone has no water, and some are seeking water from unreliable or possibly contaminated sources. At the same time, I also saw an amazing unity and toughness, a can-do spirit that my fellow Puerto Ricans have the ability to make a way where there is no way, to improvise, and, most importantly, to work together. Any divisions of party or class that are right on the surface on a typical day in Puerto Rico, this faction versus that faction, all of that was blown away. The only status issue that matters for Puerto Ricans right now is the status of the SOS, save our souls. We need help, and plenty of it, now.

Yesterday, I spoke at a press conference in Chicago with Mayor Rahm Emanuel and leaders from Chicago, including Fire Commissioner Santiago and the head of Chicago’s Office of Emergency Management and Control, a brigadier general in our National Guard. The mayor announced that 22 Chicago firefighters, on their own dime, are going to Puerto Rico to help with the rescue and recovery efforts, including bringing equipment that may help communications to remote parts of the island. The mayor also announced that, in Chicago, we want to be for Puerto Rico what Houston was for New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina—a place of refuge where we will help you get settled, get your kids into school, get you the medical care you need, and make you feel welcome. One thing I learned in Puerto Rico this weekend is that, in Chicago and in the rest of the U.S., we need to start thinking about evacuation in addition to rebuilding and recovery.

I have welcomed my own family into my home, and people I know across the country are welcoming relatives escaping Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands. But we need to wrap up our commitment beyond the family-to-family informal relationships and look systematically at how we organize ourselves to meet the great need of our fellow citizens on the island in the Caribbean. Rebuilding Puerto Rico—making her a strong and self-sufficient island nation of industrious and hardworking people again—will take years and require a long-term commitment from this Congress and this country so that the well-being of our fellow man on the island can be met. So, Madam Speaker, let’s roll up our sleeves and get to work. Once again, Chicago is there to welcome you, to enroll your kids in school, to get you medical attention, and to make sure you have a safe place until the recovery and rebuilding has been accomplished.

Rep. Adriano Espaillat (D-NY):

Madam Speaker, any comments that I make in Spanish, I will provide translation in English. Madam Speaker, I witnessed the devastation and humanitarian crisis this weekend when I traveled to the island of Puerto Rico with my colleague from Chicago, Illinois, Luis Gutiérrez. As I traveled throughout the area, I met dozens of emergency workers from various cities around our Nation on their way to provide assistance to families in Puerto Rico.

(English translation of the statement made in Spanish is as follows:) I had the privilege of travelling to Puerto Rico this weekend along with my colleague from the State of Illinois, Congressman Luis Gutiérrez, and witnessed the devastation caused by Hurricane Maria. But most importantly, I saw how the Puerto Rican people has united to work in restoring Puerto Rico from its current state. Thousands and thousands of people, including Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz and the Governor, are compromised with the well-being of the Puerto Rican people. I saw firefighters and emergency workers at the Philadelphia airport trying to reach Puerto Rico to help their brothers and sisters. This has moved me and I understand the Puerto Rican people have a very big heart and immense solidarity.

Madam Speaker, I met with Puerto Rico Governor Ricardo Rossello and San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz. It bewilders me how someone could criticize the mayor of San Juan, Puerto Rico, from a cozy clubhouse in a well-heeled golf course when she was chest deep in water contaminated with toxic fuels and human excrement, bringing help to those who need it in San Juan, Puerto Rico. We discussed with them efforts currently under way and ways that the Federal Government and Congress can improve our response to address immediate and long-term goals to help rebuild the island of Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands—let’s not forget them.

Yesterday, I released a 10-point plan following my assessment, and I offer this as a solution to provide an immediate emergency relief package for the humanitarian crisis we are witnessing in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. It is my hope that we, as Members of Congress, will work together to find solutions quickly, as the lives of U.S. citizens and the efforts to rebuild have remained encumbered. Madam Speaker, I call for an immediate $20 billion emergency relief package for Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands. Congress needs to act on a humanitarian emergency relief package for Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands no later than this week. They cannot wait another week.

It is estimated that Puerto Rico will need $85 billion for their recovery efforts. At a minimum, Congress need to enact a $20 billion emergency relief package for Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. Also, I call for a hearing on Puerto Rico and U.S. Virgin Islands recovery efforts. A congressional task force for coordinated relief efforts must be put in place. The delayed response in Puerto Rico was egregious. I join my colleagues in calling for a hearing on Puerto Rico and U.S. Virgin Islands recovery efforts and for a full assessment on how to mitigate delayed reactions in the future and a strategic plan on a long-term recovery effort not only for Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, but for the entire Caribbean region that, unfortunately, stands on the pathway of natural disasters, including hurricane season.

As my colleagues have stated, the Hurricane Sandy Rebuilding Task Force resulted in a comprehensive plan developed by Federal and local stakeholders, which then helped aid the recovery efforts in U.S. and elsewhere. A similar plan is needed for all of the areas affected during this hurricane season. We must also create a permanent waiver of the Jones Act for diesel and fuel. The latest 10-day waiver by the Trump administration is not nearly enough. The Jones Act needs to be waived for at least a year so that response and rebuilding efforts are not encumbered. I also call for a permanent waiver for diesel and fuel.

I also call for immediate deployment of the USS Abraham Lincoln aircraft carrier. I joined 145 Members of Congress in urging the President to deploy the USS Abraham Lincoln. We need to repair telecommunications and authorize the Army and engineers to repair hospitals.

Rep. John Garamendi (D-NY):

Mr. Speaker, there are so many things on the minds of Americans: three hurricanes in a month, disasters in Houston, Florida, Puerto Rico, Virgin Islands. We just heard our colleague from the Virgin Islands speak of the problems that that island has. Millions of Americans harmed in so many ways, lives lost, just yesterday, the tragedy in Las Vegas. It is hard not to focus only on those issues, but in many, many ways, Las Vegas aside, the issue of the hurricanes and what we will do as Americans going forward is on my mind and, I suspect, on the minds of many.

As we review and as we figure out how to deal with those disasters and how we rebuild, I would like us all to keep in mind that our goal, in addition to bringing these economies back together again, putting people back in their homes, their businesses, and the infrastructure, that we keep in mind that we ought to be looking for better jobs and better wages for all Americans—and certainly for those in the low- and middle-income brackets—and a better future. We think about Puerto Rico and their future. How do we make it a better future? Well, we certainly know that there is a problem in much of America, stagnation of wages, so higher pay becomes critically important.

We need to deal with the cost issues that go into this, and we need to make sure that all Americans, wherever they may be, in Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, or Washington, Virginia, wherever, that they have the tools to compete. So today we are going to take 1 hour, and we are going to talk about ideas that need to be discussed here in the House of Representatives: legislation, existing programs such as the Jones Act, shipbuilding, and the like.

Another piece of our puzzle on making it in America, and better wages, better jobs, and better future, is something that has been much discussed in recent days, particularly with regard to the Puerto Rican situation, and that is the Jones Act. Joining me tonight to discuss the Jones Act, why it is important to America, why it is a major job opportunity and continuation for American mariners, American shipowners, as well as America’s shipyards, is Ms. Jayapal…

Mr. Speaker, I thank the gentlewoman from the State of Washington for very clearly laying out why the Jones Act is good for all of us. We held a hearing today, an extensive hearing on the maritime industry and on the Jones Act in the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, the Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation Subcommittee, and it was laid out with facts and figures, many of those behind you on the chart. There has been a lot of talk about the Jones Act somehow harming Puerto Rico. The fact is, the truth is exactly the opposite. The Jones Act allows for three American shipping companies using American ships with American mariners to deliver twice a week—each of those companies—twice a week on what amounts to a milk run from Jacksonville, Florida, to Puerto Rico, all the goods and services that they need. With the hurricane having happened, these three companies are providing all of the FEMA, all of the emergency aid, and they have additional capacity that has not yet been used in delivering the goods and services that Puerto Rico needs in the wake of the hurricane. In addition to that, the Jones Act is not just between the islands of Puerto Rico, Guam, or Hawaii. It is the inland waterways of America—the great Mississippi River system, all of the barges and tugs and the rest. If the Jones Act didn’t exist, we would have companies, mariners, and sailors operating in the heart of our country from everywhere in the world. This is a major national security issue beyond what we will talk about…

Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-WA):

Mr. Speaker, I thank the gentleman from California for yielding. It was wonderful to see the gentleman out in Seattle exploring our maritime sector. We are very proud of the maritime industry. And in the State of Washington, and in my district, the Seventh Congressional District of Washington State, sometimes people know about us for Boeing airplanes, but they really should know us for our national deep water port and all of the maritime that we have there. Obviously, Mr. Speaker, since Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico last month, residents have been without power. Many of them have not had access to relief supplies, including food and water. Many have lost their lives. It has been heartbreaking to watch. We all stand united in pushing this administration to do everything possible to ensure that the people of Puerto Rico have access to relief supplies and that the administration is doing everything it can to assist and rebuild. These are American citizens, and we have an obligation to do everything we can to help after this devastating hurricane. The reason I am here today is to join my colleague, the gentleman from California, because in the wake of Hurricane Maria, we did see a false narrative spreading through the media and social channels about the Jones Act. It caused us to reflect on the fact that perhaps not everybody knows the history of the Jones Act. Not everybody understands exactly what it does and how it supports so strongly American jobs that benefit so many of us.

There are people who thought that perhaps the Jones Act was to blame for the fact that supplies were not making it out of the docks and into Puerto Rico, and so I am very grateful to the gentleman from California, and Republican colleague across the aisle, Representative Hunter, for holding an informal hearing on this very topic and inviting in shipbuilders, shipping companies, as well as the maritime labor industry to tell us a little bit about what was happening in Puerto Rico. And so this is an opportunity, really, for us to talk about what the Jones Act means, because when you are talking about Make It In America, when you are talking about better wages, better jobs, and a better deal for the American public, then the Jones Act, in many ways, is the epitome of exactly that. The Jones Act has been in effect for nearly 100 years and inspired by cabotage laws that were in place since the first session of Congress in 1789. The law requires that when goods are shipped via water between two points in the United States, they must be shipped on U.S.-made vessels that are owned and operated by Americans.

This is where the critical industry comes in. In terms of Puerto Rico, the Jones Act is not the reason that the distribution of relief supplies has been slow to move in Puerto Rico. In fact, reports are that thousands of containers containing fuel, emergency housing, food, water, and other essentials are trapped at the Port of San Juan. To date, at least 11,300 containers with millions of pounds of relief supplies have been delivered. To put this in perspective, just one such state-of-the-art container ship arrived in Puerto Rico just 3 days after Hurricane Maria made landfall, carrying more than 35 million pounds of cargo, the equivalent of about 1,900 cargo planes. You can see here on the chart that the Jones Act current capacity is 22,000 TEUs with a maximum carrying capacity of 1.079 billion pounds.

So just imagine that the additional surge capacity, as of now, is 5,430 TEUs with a max carrying capacity of 258 million pounds. So the issue has not been that ships are not delivering. Our American ships are delivering supplies. But unfortunately, because of the infrastructure, the lack of infrastructure, the destruction to the roads, and the issues around refrigeration across the island—unfortunately, warehouses have been destroyed—there is nowhere to store those products, and there is no refrigeration. So what we are seeing is the capacity at the docks continuing to increase. So over the next 2 weeks alone, Jones Act vessels will deliver more than 9,000 containers to Puerto Rico, including at least 3,300 FEMA loads full of relief cargo. So despite these volumes, the residents of Puerto Rico are suffering, not because ships aren’t being able to deliver there, but because of the lack of infrastructure that I mentioned, lack of refrigeration, all of those things.

So currently, the point that is very important, I think, for everybody to understand is that American flagships have the capacity to meet Puerto Rico’s relief cargo needs, and the emphasis needs to be on moving cargo from the Port of San Juan into the island, and focusing on rebuilding the infrastructure that has suffered because of this devastating hurricane. Mr. Speaker, some have called for an outright repeal of the Jones Act despite these facts. Why should Members of Congress on both sides of the aisle support the Jones Act? Because it is incredibly important to our country’s economy and to the maritime industry, which supports nearly 500,000 jobs and is responsible for over $92 billion in gross economic output each year.

So in my home State of Washington, which ranks sixth in the country for Jones Act jobs, this law supports over 16,000 jobs and helps generate approximately $1.1 billion in labor income. More than 19 million tons of cargo originates from my home State of Washington every year, and the State imports more than 28 million tons annually. Without these jobs, our economy would suffer tremendously. In my district, Washington’s Seventh Congressional District, the Jones Act directly supports nearly 2,000 jobs, indirectly supports more than 6,500-related jobs. And to be clear, everywhere in the country where we have Jones Act jobs, they are better jobs, better wages, and a better future for our Americans across the country. Shipyard jobs pay incredibly well. They earn workers about 45 percent more than the national average for private sector jobs. And this is an area, as we saw in the hearing that was had, this is an area where business and maritime labor, our merchant marines, are proud to work together to make sure that we provide for the national security of our country through the Jones Act, and also that we provide these deep investments in good-paying union jobs.

Mr. Speaker, there is no doubt that we have to invest in Puerto Rico by providing comprehensive relief, including water and food and housing and medical care, and we have to do everything we can to rebuild the infrastructure. But at the same time, we must make sure that we continue bipartisan support for this bedrock maritime law.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.