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Trump just lifted the Jones Act for Puerto Rico. Here’s what that does.

By Amber Phillips

September 28, 2017 at 8:41 AM

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President Trump signed a waiver on Sept. 28 that lifts shipping restrictions to hurricane-battered Puerto Rico. (Victoria Walker/The Washington Post)

This post has been updated throughout, specifically with news that the Trump administration is waiving the Jones Act, as well as comments from a congressman who will be holding an emergency hearing Thursday aimed at defending the Jones Act, which shipping advocates say isn't the reason Puerto Rico's recovery has stalled. We explain why below.

In the wake of Hurricane Maria, pretty much the entire island of Puerto Rico is dark, hot and running out of supplies — quickly.

But if Puerto Rico wants supplies shipped from the mainland, it has to wait until American boats can reach its shores, thanks to a World War I-era shipping law that the Trump administration originally said it wasn't going to waive, then abruptly decided to lift on Thursday morning.

Trump's hesitation on to waive the Jones Act caused him a political headache these past few days. It fed into a narrative that the president is aloof to Puerto Rico's problems, especially since his administration lifted the law to help Texas and Florida after hurricanes Harvey in August and Irma this month. (Supporters of the Jones Act say the thinking within the shipping industry is that the Trump administration lifted the Jones Act prematurely for Hurricane Harvey and that Florida needed only a little bit of help from foreign-owned ships.)

Meanwhile, despite agitation from some powerful members of Congress to get rid of the law entirely so we don't keep having these debates after hurricanes, it's likely to stay on the books.

Here's what you need to know about the Jones Act.

What the Jones Act does: It requires that ships going from American coast to American coast be American — built, owned, flagged and crewed. That means goods going from the mainland to Puerto Rico, Hawaii, Alaska and Guam — or even from Texas to New England — have to travel on U.S. ships, even if they're not the most economical transport or readily available.

Authorities hand out water in Puerto Rico on Sunday. (Thais Llorca/European Pressphoto Agency/EFE)

Why that matters to hurricane relief: If there's a foreign ship nearby that has come from the United States and happens to have U.S. supplies that can help Puerto Rico, it can't dock in Puerto Rico. Only U.S. ships can.

David Lewis, vice president of Manchester Trade Ltd., said that foreign ships can't transport U.S. cargo from one U.S. point to another under the Jones Act. "The Coast Guard won't let them," he said.

Top GOP politicians wanted the president to life it. Here's House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) on Wednesday: "I'm very glad the president waived the Jones Act so we can get every ship we can to Puerto Rico." 

Why the law exists: Congress passed the Merchant Marine Act in 1920, after World War I, when it was worried that the U.S. shipping industry was weak — too weak to, say,  fight with German submarines that had sunk hundreds of U.S. ships.

Why the law still exists: Because there are powerful arguments on both sides. Puerto Rican officials have long despised the law, saying it makes their food and goods much more expensive than on the mainland. Politicians in Hawaii have argued that ranchers have even resorted to flying cows to the mainland rather than shipping them. Other opponents of the law say it forces New Englanders to pay more for propane, holds up salt supplies to clear snowstorms in New Jersey and raises electricity rates in Florida.

But its supporters say there is no evidence that the Jones Act leads to shortages of actual ships arriving in a disaster, and until recently it wasn't lifted routinely in natural disasters. Lewis said most fuel comes to Puerto Rico from foreign countries, on foreign ships, so lifting the Jones Act wouldn't help Puerto Rico on that front anyway.

Ysamar Figueroa, carrying son Saniel, looks at the damage in the neighborhood after the area was hit by Hurricane Maria, in Canovanas, Puerto Rico. (Carlos Garcia Rawlins/Reuters)

The Department of Homeland Security agrees. It originally said getting more fuel to the island wouldn't address its main problem, which is ports damaged by the storm. Plus, barges, which make up a large part of U.S.-flagged ships, would deliver most humanitarian relief, the agency said.

Rep. John Garamendi (D-Calif.), who represents Northern California, said to the best of his understanding, ships arriving are not the problem, but rather the ability to transport what they're bringing.

"The problem is not that the containers [of aid and fuel] are not arriving in Puerto Rico," he told The Fix. "It's that they're not getting off the dock."

He said 6,000 shipping containers are en route or already at Puerto Rico with supplies that are estimated to deliver some 5 million tons of aid. He and Rep. Duncan D. Hunter (R-Calif.) are holding an emergency hearing Thursday morning on how deliveries are arriving in Puerto Rico via U.S. ships.

The fight over the law in Congress: Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) has been leading the charge to get rid of it. It's antiquated, it hinders free trade and it makes goods more expensive, he argues.

But the U.S. shipping industry likes the law because it guarantees them jobs. And that may be enough of a reason. "The power of this maritime lobby is as powerful as anybody or any organization I have run up against in my political career," McCain said in 2014.

Trump himself said as much when chatting with reporters briefly Wednesday: "We're thinking" about lifting it, he said, but "a lot of people who are in the shipping industry don't want it" lifted.

Why it probably will exist for the foreseeable future: The Jones Act has long had powerful friends. For a while, shipyards in Mississippi were the main beneficiaries of the Jones Act, and a senator from Mississippi — Trent Lott (R) — happened to be the Senate majority leader.

Conversely, many who lose out under the Jones Act don't have a say. Puerto Rico, for example, has no voting power in Congress. Same with Guam.

"It's a classic residual program that has concentrated benefits to a few and widely diffused costs to the many," said Scott Miller, an international trade expert with the Center for Strategic & International Studies.

Why the Trump administration is taking heat: Fairly or not, wavering on lifting the Jones Act bolsters criticism that Trump cares a lot less about Puerto Rico than he does about U.S. citizens on the mainland.

Over the weekend, Trump tweeted more than a dozen times about NFL players kneeling during the national anthem and not once about the devastation in Puerto Rico. Trump even appeared to be unclear on how far away Puerto Rico is from the mainland United States, saying there's "a very big ocean" rescuers have to cross to get there.

And it gives his opponents another data point to use when they accuse Trump of being more empathetic to the plights of people who look like him.

Carmen De Jesus uses a flashlight at the Moradas Las Teresas Elderly House, where about two hundred elderly people live without electricity following damages caused by Hurricane Maria in Carolina, Puerto Rico September 30, 2017. REUTERS/Carlos Barria
A woman stands next to her apartment door at the Moradas Las Teresas Elderly House, where about two hundred elderly people live without electricity following damages caused by Hurricane Maria in Carolina, Puerto Rico, September 30, 2017. REUTERS/Carlos Barria
In this image released by the US Coast Guard (USCG), crewmembers from USCG Cutter Elm and members from Sector San Juan, Puerto Rico, fill portable diesel tanks in Vieques Island, Puerto Rico, for distribution to the victims of Hurricane Maria on September 30, 2017. / AFP PHOTO / US Coast Guard / Michael De NYSE / RESTRICTED TO EDITORIAL USE - MANDATORY CREDIT "AFP PHOTO / US Coast Guard / Petty Officer 1st Class Michael De Nyse" - NO MARKETING NO ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS - DISTRIBUTED AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS MICHAEL DE NYSE/AFP/Getty Images
People buy ice at a local ice plant in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria, in Arecibo, Puerto Rico, September 30, 2017. US military and emergency relief teams ramped up their aid efforts for Puerto Rico amid growing criticism of the response to the hurricanes which ripped through the Caribbean island. / AFP PHOTO / Ricardo ARDUENGORICARDO ARDUENGO/AFP/Getty Images
TOPSHOT - Coffins that were washed downhill from the Lares Municipal Cemetery by a landslide are seen in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria in Lares, Puerto Rico, September 30, 2017. US military and emergency relief teams ramped up their aid efforts for Puerto Rico amid growing criticism of the response to the hurricanes which ripped through the Caribbean island. / AFP PHOTO / Ricardo ARDUENGORICARDO ARDUENGO/AFP/Getty Images
A car drives past damaged trees after Hurricane Maria in Morovis, Puerto Rico, on Saturday, Sept. 30, 2017. President Donald Trump, under rising criticism for the federal response to hurricane-wrecked Puerto Rico, lashed out at San Juan's mayor Saturday for her "poor leadership ability" and said some residents of the U.S. commonwealth "want everything to be done for them." Photographer: John Taggart/Bloomberg
Workers remove dead chickens from damanged cages after Hurricane Maria at Tofrescos chicken farm in Morovis, Puerto Rico, on Saturday, Sept. 30, 2017. President Donald Trump, under rising criticism for the federal response to hurricane-wrecked Puerto Rico, lashed out at San Juan's mayor Saturday for her "poor leadership ability" and said some residents of the U.S. commonwealth "want everything to be done for them." Photographer: John Taggart/Bloomberg
A man stands inside of a destroyed supermarket by Hurricane Maria in Salinas, Puerto Rico, September 29, 2017 REUTERS/Alvin Baez TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
TOA BAJA, PUERTO RICO - SEPTEMBER 29: A damaged home is seen as people deal with the aftermath of Hurricane Maria on September 29, 2017 in Toa Baja, Puerto Rico. Puerto Rico experienced widespread damage including most of the electrical, gas and water grid as well as agriculture after Hurricane Maria, a category 4 hurricane, passed through. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
People sweep mud from inside an affected business in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria, in Comerio, Puerto Rico, September 29, 2017. US military and emergency relief teams ramped up their aid efforts for Puerto Rico amid growing criticism of the response to the hurricanes which ripped through the Caribbean island. / AFP PHOTO / Ricardo ARDUENGORICARDO ARDUENGO/AFP/Getty Images
People take a bath in a spring under a tarp on a hillside destroyed by hurricane Maria in Yabucoa, eastern Puerto Rico, on September 29, 2017. US military and emergency relief teams ramped up their aid efforts for Puerto Rico amid growing criticism of the response to the hurricanes which ripped through the Caribbean island. / AFP PHOTO / HECTOR RETAMALHECTOR RETAMAL/AFP/Getty Images
A woman combs her hair after taking a bath on the Cuyon River in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria, in Coamo, Puerto Rico, September 29, 2017. US military and emergency relief teams ramped up their aid efforts for Puerto Rico amid growing criticism of the response to the hurricanes which ripped through the Caribbean island. / AFP PHOTO / Ricardo ARDUENGORICARDO ARDUENGO/AFP/Getty Images
Mandatory Credit: Photo by Thais Llorca/EPA-EFE/REX/Shutterstock (9100227n) People affected by Hurricane Maria receive supplies in San Juan, Puerto Rico, 29 September 2017. Ten days after Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico as a Category 4 storm, the island is dealing with a humanitarian crisis as millions are still without electricity, water and basic necessities. Hurricane Maria aftermath in Puerto Rico, San Juan - 29 Sep 2017
An elderly woman stands after receiving food during a supplies distributions at an area affected by Hurricane Maria in Salinas, Puerto Rico, September 29, 2017 REUTERS/Alvin Baez
DORADO, PUERTO RICO - SEPTEMBER 29: Hurricane survivors lineup at a gas station to fuel up vehicles as they deal with the aftermath of Hurricane Maria on September 29, 2017 in Dorado, Puerto Rico. Puerto Rico experienced widespread damage including most of the electrical, gas and water grid as well as agriculture after Hurricane Maria, a category 4 hurricane, passed through. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
US and Puerto Rican flags wave next to a highway 30 in eastern Puerto Rico, on September 29, 2017. US military and emergency relief teams ramped up their aid efforts for Puerto Rico amid growing criticism of the response to the hurricanes which ripped through the Caribbean island. / AFP PHOTO / HECTOR RETAMALHECTOR RETAMAL/AFP/Getty Images
Destroyed communities are seen in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria in Toa Alta, Puerto Rico, Thursday, Sept. 28, 2017. The aftermath of the powerful storm has resulted in a near-total shutdown of the U.S. territory?s economy that could last for weeks and has many people running seriously low on cash and worrying that it will become even harder to survive on this storm-ravaged island. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)
Debris is seen strewn around cattle and destroyed vegetation in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria in San Juan, Puerto Rico, Thursday, Sept. 28, 2017. The aftermath of the powerful storm has resulted in a near-total shutdown of the U.S. territory?s economy that could last for weeks and has many people running seriously low on cash and worrying that it will become even harder to survive on this storm-ravaged island. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)
Damaged boats are seen in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria in Dorado, Puerto Rico, Thursday, Sept. 28, 2017. The aftermath of the powerful storm has resulted in a near-total shutdown of the U.S. territory?s economy that could last for weeks and has many people running seriously low on cash and worrying that it will become even harder to survive on this storm-ravaged island. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)
A municipal government worker fills containers with drinking water for residents outside the Juan Ramon Loubriel stadium in the wake of Hurricane Maria in Bayamon, Puerto Rico, Thursday, Sept. 28, 2017. The aftermath of the powerful storm has resulted in a near-total shutdown of the U.S. territory?s economy that could last for weeks and has many people running seriously low on cash and worrying that it will become even harder to survive on this storm-ravaged island. (AP Photo/Carlos Giusti)
Puerto Rico Power Authority workers repair power lines in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria, in Loiza, Puerto Rico, September 28, 2017. The US island territory, working without electricity, is struggling to dig out and clean up from its disastrous brush with the hurricane, blamed for at least 33 deaths across the Caribbean. / AFP PHOTO / Ricardo ARDUENGORICARDO ARDUENGO/AFP/Getty Images
Javier places on his house next to a flag of Puerto Rico, a placard that read in spanish "Voy a ti Puerto Rico" (I come to you Puerto Rico), in Yabucoa, in the east of Puerto Rico, on September 28, 2017. The US island territory, working without electricity, is struggling to dig out and clean up from its disastrous brush with hurricane Maria, blamed for at least 33 deaths across the Caribbean. / AFP PHOTO / HECTOR RETAMALHECTOR RETAMAL/AFP/Getty Images
View of a destroyed house in Yabucoa, in the east of Puerto Rico, on September 28, 2017. The US island territory, working without electricity, is struggling to dig out and clean up from its disastrous brush with the hurricane, blamed for at least 33 deaths across the Caribbean. / AFP PHOTO / HECTOR RETAMALHECTOR RETAMAL/AFP/Getty Images
SAN JUAN, PUERTO RICO - SEPTEMBER 28: People line up to get on a Royal Caribbean International, Adventure of the Seas, relief boat that is sailing to Ft. Lauderdale, Florida with evacuees that are fleeing after the island was hit by Hurricane Maria on September 28, 2017 in San Juan, Puerto Rico. Puerto Rico experienced widespread damage including most of the electrical, gas and water grid as well as agriculture after Hurricane Maria, a category 4 hurricane, passed through. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
This US Navy handout photo released September 28, 2017,shows Marines assigned to Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron (VMM) 162, embarked aboard the amphibious assault ship USS Kearsarge (LHD 3), and area residents as they unload food from an MV-22 Osprey aircraft in Jayuya, Puerto Rico on September 27, 2017. Kearsarge is assisting with relief efforts in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria. The US Department of Defense is supporting the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the lead federal agency, in helping those affected by Hurricane Maria to minimize suffering and is one component of the overall whole-of-government response effort. / AFP PHOTO / US NAVY / Ryre ARCIAGA / RESTRICTED TO EDITORIAL USE - MANDATORY CREDIT "AFP PHOTO / US NAVY/RYRE ARCIAGA/HANDOUT" - NO MARKETING NO ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS - DISTRIBUTED AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS RYRE ARCIAGA/AFP/Getty Images
Hospital employees sort donated canned food to deliver to a nearby shelter for hurricane victims, in Catano, Puerto Rico, Thursday, Sept. 28, 2017. The aftermath of the powerful storm has resulted in a near-total shutdown of the U.S. territory?s economy that could last for weeks and has many people running seriously low on cash and worrying that it will become even harder to survive on this storm-ravaged island. (AP Photo/Ramon Espinosa)
People charge their mobile devices outside a Wal-Mart Stores Inc. location in San Juan, Puerto Rico, on Thursday, Sept. 28, 2017. Trump�ordered the Jones Act to be waived for shipments to hurricane-ravaged Puerto Rico immediately�at the request of Governor�Ricardo Rossello, White House press secretary�Sarah Sanders�said Thursday. Photographer: John Taggart/Bloomberg
SAN JUAN, PUERTO RICO - SEPTEMBER 28: People line up to get into a Walmart store as they deal with the aftermath of Hurricane Maria on September 28, 2017 in San Juan, Puerto Rico. Puerto Rico experienced widespread damage including most of the electrical, gas and water grid as well as agriculture after Hurricane Maria, a category 4 hurricane, passed through. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
People queue to get money from an ATM after the island was hit by Hurricane Maria, in San Juan, Puerto Rico September 28, 2017. REUTERS/Alvin Baez
TOA BAJA, PUERTO RICO - SEPTEMBER 28: Hurricane survivors receive food and water being given out by volunteers and municipal police as they deal with the aftermath of Hurricane Maria on September 28, 2017 in Toa Baja, Puerto Rico. Puerto Rico experienced widespread damage including most of the electrical, gas and water grid as well as agriculture after Hurricane Maria, a category 4 hurricane, passed through. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
SAN JUAN PUERTO RICO ? SEPTEMBER 28: People waits for charter flights out of San Juan at Isla Grande Airport. More than a week after the event, recovery is slow. Hurricane Maria passed through Puerto Rico leaving behind a path of destruction across the national territory. (Photo by Dennis M. Rivera Pichardo for The Washington Post)
SAN JUAN PUERTO RICO ? SEPTEMBER 28: Help get in in private jets trough Isla Grande Airport. More than a week after the event, recovery is slow. Hurricane Maria passed through Puerto Rico leaving behind a path of destruction across the national territory. (Photo by Dennis M. Rivera Pichardo for The Washington Post)
SAN JUAN PUERTO RICO ? SEPTEMBER 29: San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulin Cruz, hands in solar lamps to La Perla Residents. Hurricane Maria passed through Puerto Rico leaving behind a path of destruction across the national territory. (Photo by Dennis M. Rivera Pichardo for The Washington Post)
SAN JUAN PUERTO RICO ? SEPTEMBER 28: San Juan Mayor hand out LED lights to La Perla Residents. La Perla one of the poorest and most violent neighborhood of Puerto Rico struggles with safety issues in the night without electricity . More than a week after the event, recovery is slow. Hurricane Maria passed through Puerto Rico leaving behind a path of destruction across the national territory. (Photo by Dennis M. Rivera Pichardo for The Washington Post)
SAN JUAN PUERTO RICO ? SEPTEMBER 28: San Juan Mayor hand out LED lights to La Perla Residents. La Perla one of the poorest and most violent neighborhood of Puerto Rico struggles with safety issues in the night without electricity . More than a week after the event, recovery is slow. Hurricane Maria passed through Puerto Rico leaving behind a path of destruction across the national territory. (Photo by Dennis M. Rivera Pichardo for The Washington Post)
SAN JUAN PUERTO RICO ? SEPTEMBER 28: A family fill up water bottles at a cistern truck in La Perla. La Perla one of the poorest and most violent neighborhood of Puerto Rico struggles with safety issues in the night without electricity . More than a week after the event, recovery is slow. Hurricane Maria passed through Puerto Rico leaving behind a path of destruction across the national territory. (Photo by Dennis M. Rivera Pichardo for The Washington Post)
COROZAL, PUERTO RICO - SEPTEMBER 27: Yolanda Negron and her daughter Yolymar Bernard salvage what they can from their home that was destroyed when Hurricane Maria passed through on September 27, 2017 in Corozal, Puerto Rico. Puerto Rico experienced widespread, severe damage including most of the electrical, gas and water grids as well as agricultural destruction after Hurricane Maria, a category 4 hurricane, passed through. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
A toppled electronic billboard lies atop a house one week after the passage of Hurricane Maria in San Juan, Puerto Rico, on September 27, 2017. The US island territory, working without electricity, is struggling to dig out and clean up from its disastrous brush with the hurricane, blamed for at least 33 deaths across the Caribbean. / AFP PHOTO / Ricardo ARDUENGORICARDO ARDUENGO/AFP/Getty Images
People wait at a gas station to fill up their fuel containers, in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria, in San Juan, Puerto Rico September 27, 2017. Picture taken September 27, 2017. REUTERS/Alvin Baez
TOPSHOT - A mural that reads in Spanish "Boriken is alive" is seen a week after the passage of Hurricane Maria in Cayey, Puerto Rico, on September 27, 2017. Boriken is the pre-Columbian Taino name of today's Puerto Rico. The US island territory, working without electricity, is struggling to dig out and clean up from its disastrous brush with the hurricane, blamed for at least 33 deaths across the Caribbean. / AFP PHOTO / Ricardo ARDUENGORICARDO ARDUENGO/AFP/Getty Images
Mario Soler Sr. (R) and his son Mario Soler Jr. survey their destroyed plantain field one week after the passage of Hurricane Maria in Salinas, Puerto Rico, on September 27, 2017. The US island territory, working without electricity, is struggling to dig out and clean up from its disastrous brush with the hurricane, blamed for at least 33 deaths across the Caribbean. / AFP PHOTO / Ricardo ARDUENGORICARDO ARDUENGO/AFP/Getty Images
COROZAL, PUERTO RICO - SEPTEMBER 27: People cross a bridge what was destroyed when Hurricane Maria passed through on September 27, 2017 in Corozal, Puerto Rico. Puerto Rico experienced widespread, severe damage including most of the electrical, gas and water grids as well as agricultural destruction after Hurricane Maria, a category 4 hurricane, passed through. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
Ruby Rodriguez, 8, crosses through the Rio San Lorenzo de Morovis with her family, since the bridge that crosses the river was swept away by Hurricane Maria, in Morovis, Puerto Rico, Wednesday, Sept. 27, 2017. The were returning to their home after visiting family on the other side. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)
COROZAL, PUERTO RICO - SEPTEMBER 27: People bathe in spring water since they have no running water in their homes since Hurricane Maria passed through on September 27, 2017 in Corozal, Puerto Rico. Puerto Rico experienced widespread damage including most of the electrical, gas and water grid as well as agriculture after Hurricane Maria, a category 4 hurricane, passed through. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
A resident bails water from a flooded home in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria, in Catano, Puerto Rico, Wednesday, Sept. 27, 2017. A week since the passing of Maria many are still waiting for help from anyone from the federal or Puerto Rican government. But the scope of the devastation is so broad, and the relief effort so concentrated in San Juan, that many people from outside the capital say they have received little to no help. (AP Photo/Carlos Giusti)
People wait in lines to take mony from an ATM in Humacao, in the east of Puerto Rico, on September 27, 2017. The US island territory, working without electricity, is struggling to dig out and clean up from its disastrous brush with the hurricane, blamed for at least 33 deaths across the Caribbean. / AFP PHOTO / HECTOR RETAMALHECTOR RETAMAL/AFP/Getty Images
A supermarket worker collects food requested by buyers in a supermarket in Humacao, in the east of Puerto Rico, on September 27, 2017. The US island territory, working without electricity, is struggling to dig out and clean up from its disastrous brush with the hurricane, blamed for at least 33 deaths across the Caribbean. / AFP PHOTO / HECTOR RETAMALHECTOR RETAMAL/AFP/Getty Images
A telephone technician tries to repair the lines in Punta Santiago, Humacao, in the east of Puerto Rico, on September 27, 2017, one week after the passage of Hurricane Maria. The US island territory, working without electricity, is struggling to dig out and clean up from its disastrous brush with the hurricane, blamed for at least 33 deaths across the Caribbean. / AFP PHOTO / HECTOR RETAMALHECTOR RETAMAL/AFP/Getty Images
A man with gas cans walks past a long line of cars as people queue up to buy gas in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria, in Morovis, Puerto Rico, Wednesday, Sept. 27, 2017. A week since the passing of Maria many are still waiting for help from anyone from the federal or Puerto Rican government. But the scope of the devastation is so broad, and the relief effort so concentrated in San Juan, that many people from outside the capital say they have received little to no help. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)
Women help each other onto the river bank after wading across the Rio St. Lorenzo de Morovis, after the bridge traversing the river was washed away by Hurricane Maria, in the aftermath of the storm in Morovis, Puerto Rico, Wednesday, Sept. 27, 2017. A week since the passing of Maria many are still waiting for help from anyone from the federal or Puerto Rican government. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)
Vehicles travel along a dark street in an area without electricity after Hurricane Maria in San Juan, Puerto Rico, on Wednesday, Sept. 27, 2017. Trump�ordered the Jones Act to be waived for shipments to hurricane-ravaged Puerto Rico immediately�at the request of Governor�Ricardo Rossello, White House press secretary�Sarah Sanders�said Thursday. Photographer: Alex Wroblewski/Bloomberg
Nelida Trinidad walks around her destroyed home in Montebello, Puerto Rico, in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria, Tuesday, Sept. 26, 2017. Five days after the Category 4 storm slammed into Puerto Rico, many of the more than 3.4 million U.S. citizens in the territory were still without adequate food, water and fuel. Flights off the island were infrequent, communications were spotty and roads were clogged with debris. Officials said electrical power may not be fully restored for more than a month. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)
Maribel Valentin Espino sits in her hurricane-destroyed home in Montebello, Puerto Rico, Tuesday, Sept. 26, 2017. Five days after the Category 4 storm slammed into Puerto Rico, many of the more than 3.4 million U.S. citizens in the territory were still without adequate food, water and fuel. Flights off the island were infrequent, communications were spotty and roads were clogged with debris. Officials said electrical power may not be fully restored for more than a month. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)
Ysamar Figueroa carrying her son Saniel, looks at the damage in the neighbourhood after the area was hit by Hurricane Maria, in Canovanas, Puerto Rico September 26, 2017. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins
Jose Garcia Vicente walks through rubble of his destroyed home, in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria, in Aibonito, Puerto Rico, Monday, Sept. 25, 2017. The U.S. ramped up its response Monday to the humanitarian crisis in Puerto Rico while the Trump administration sought to blunt criticism that its response to Hurricane Maria has fallen short of it efforts in Texas and Florida after the recent hurricanes there. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)
People stand in line to withdraw cash from an automatic teller machine (ATM) after Hurricane Maria heavily damaged the government-run electricity system in the Miramar neighborhood of San Juan, Puerto Rico, on Tuesday, Sept. 26, 2017. President�Donald Trump�said he will travel to Puerto Rico to survey damage. He told reporters that the federal government is "doing a really good job" in relief efforts and has shipped "massive amounts" of food and water. Photographer: Alex Wroblewski/Bloomberg
People queue to fill containers with water from a tank truck at an area hit by Hurricane Maria in Canovanas, Puerto Rico, September 26, 2017. Picture taken on September 26, 2017. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins
Melvin Rodriguez showers with water from a well on a street after the area was hit by Hurricane Maria in Canovanas, Puerto Rico, September 26, 2017. Picture taken on September 26, 2017. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins
A woman cleans her house after the area was hit by Hurricane Maria in Canovanas, Puerto Rico September 26, 2017. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins
Myriam Rivera and her family rebuild their house destroyed by Hurricane Maria in the neigborhood of Acerolas in Toa Alto, Puerto Rico, on September 26, 2017. The US island territory, working without electricity, is struggling to dig out and clean up from its disastrous brush with the hurricane, blamed for at least 33 deaths across the Caribbean. / AFP PHOTO / HECTOR RETAMALHECTOR RETAMAL/AFP/Getty Images
Wilson Hernandez and his family rebuild their house destroyed by Hurricane Maria in the neigborhood of Acerolas in Toa Alto, Puerto Rico, on September 26, 2017. The US island territory, working without electricity, is struggling to dig out and clean up from its disastrous brush with the hurricane, blamed for at least 33 deaths across the Caribbean. / AFP PHOTO / HECTOR RETAMALHECTOR RETAMAL/AFP/Getty Images
SAN JUAN, PUERTO RICO - SEPTEMBER 26: Edgar Morales sits and waits in line to get gas as he deals with the aftermath of Hurricane Maria on September 26, 2017 in San Juan Puerto Rico. Puerto Rico experienced widespread damage, including most of the electrical, gas and water grid after Hurricane Maria, a category 4 hurricane, devastated the island. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
SAN JUAN, PUERTO RICO - SEPTEMBER 26: Semiramis Colon her child, Keylianis Rodas, wait in line to get into a grocery store as they deal with the aftermath of Hurricane Maria on September 26, 2017 in San Juan Puerto Rico. Puerto Rico experienced widespread damage, including most of the electrical, gas and water grid after Hurricane Maria, a category 4 hurricane, devastated the island. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
Down trees rest on tombs at the cemetery of Lares after the passing of Hurricane Maria, in Puerto Rico, Tuesday, Sept. 26, 2017. Gov. Governor Ricardo Rossello and Resident Commissioner Jennifer Gonzalez, the island?s representative in Congress, have said they intend to seek more than a billion in federal assistance and they have praised the response to the disaster by President Donald Trump, who plans to visit Puerto Rico next week, as well as FEMA Administrator Brock Long. (AP Photo/Ramon Espinosa)
Neighbors sit on a couch outside their destroyed homes as sun sets in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria, in Yabucoa, Puerto Rico, Tuesday, Sept. 26, 2017. Governor Ricardo Rossello and Resident Commissioner Jennifer Gonzalez, the island?s representative in Congress, have said they intend to seek more than a billion in federal assistance and they have praised the response to the disaster by President Donald Trump, who plans to visit Puerto Rico next week, as well as FEMA Administrator Brock Long. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)
Nestor Serrano walks on the upstairs floor of his home, where the walls were blown off, in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria, in Yabucoa, Puerto Rico, Tuesday, Sept. 26, 2017. Governor Ricardo Rossello and Resident Commissioner Jennifer Gonzalez, the island?s representative in Congress, have said they intend to seek more than a billion in federal assistance and they have praised the response to the disaster by President Donald Trump, who plans to visit Puerto Rico next week, as well as FEMA Administrator Brock Long. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)
Destroyed homes and vehicles sit in floodwaters after Hurricane Maria in this aerial photograph taken above Hamacao, Puerto Rico, on Monday, Sept. 25, 2017. Hurricane Maria hit the Caribbean island last week, knocking out electricity throughout the island. The territory is facing weeks, if not months, without service as utility workers repair�power�plants and lines that were already falling apart. Photographer: Alex Wroblewski/Bloomberg
Destroyed homes sit surrounded by debris from Hurricane Maria in this aerial photograph taken above La Perla in San Juan, Puerto Rico, on Monday, Sept. 25, 2017. Hurricane Maria hit the Caribbean island last week, knocking out electricity throughout the island. The territory is facing weeks, if not months, without service as utility workers repair�power�plants and lines that were already falling apart. Photographer: Alex Wroblewski/Bloomberg
People stand in a bar damaged from Hurricane Maria in this aerial photograph taken above La Perla, San Juan, Puerto Rico, on Monday, Sept. 25, 2017. Hurricane Maria hit the Caribbean island last week, knocking out electricity throughout the island. The territory is facing weeks, if not months, without service as utility workers repair�power�plants and lines that were already falling apart. Photographer: Alex Wroblewski/Bloomberg
FILE PHOTO: A woman carries bottles of water and food during a distribution of relief items, after the area was hit by Hurricane Maria in San Juan, Puerto Rico September 24, 2017. REUTERS/Alvin Baez/File Photo
Photo Gallery: After the Category 4 hurricane slammed into Puerto Rico, many of the more than 3.4 million U.S. citizens in the territory were still without, adequate food, water, electricity and fuel. Flights off the island were infrequent, communications were spotty and roads were clogged with debris.

Amber Phillips writes about politics for The Fix. She was previously the one-woman D.C. bureau for the Las Vegas Sun and has reported from Boston and Taiwan.

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