Dear Speaker Ryan,
I write to you today to ask about why the Jones Act amendment proposed by Rep. Gary Palmer and the reasonable minimum wage exceptions were left out of the Puerto Rican assistance act (PROMESA). If the purpose of the fiscal rescue bill was to aid the Puerto Ricans suffering from a fledgling economy and corrupt government, these two items would have greatly helped the Puerto Rican people.
The Jones Act, as you know, requires that all cargo shipped between U.S. ports be carried by U.S.-built, U.S.-crewed, U.S.-owned ships. The J0nes Act puts an unnecessary burden on our U.S territories; exempting Puerto Rico from this provision would have provided a much-needed burst of commerce and lower the cost of living. As it is now, the Jones Act limits international competition for competition for imports and creates higher taxes on basic necessities such as energy and food. This recent article in the National Interest, which covers the history and impact of the Jones Act, is a must-read.
In a similar way, allowing Puerto Rico to be exempted from federal minimum wage requirements would give businesses a chance to compete without artificial wage impediments. How can it be acceptable to deny the Puerto Rican people this tool to help aid recovery, when it once allowed American Samoa to be exempted as a favor to Nancy Pelosi because of her constituent operations there? When the favor was discovered and the exemption rescinded, the damage to the American Samoa people had already been done; the amount of subsequent layoffs and hiring freezes prompted delays in phasing in the minimum wage requirements in 2010, 2012, and most recently in 2015. Why in the world would not then make a minimum wage exemption for the Puerto Rico in order to help spur more rapid job creation and economic growth?
This would be the right time for Congress to enact stand alone law exemption US territories for laws such as the Jones Act and federal minimum wage. In that way, our territories can not only manage to survive, but actually thrive.