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McCain introduces bill that could allow Puerto Rico to accept foreign aid

Damaged and destroyed homes 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)

PHOENIX — U.S. Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) introduced legislation on Thursday that would permanently exempt Puerto Rico from an act that prevents the island from accepting foreign aid.

The bill would permanently exempt Puerto Rico from the Merchant Marine Act of 1920, better known as the Jones Act.

The Jones Act requires that “all goods shipped between waterborne ports” of the U.S. must be carried by U.S.-built vessels that are owned and operated by Americans.

Waiving this act, McCain argued, would “aid recovery efforts in the wake of Hurricane Maria and encourage long-term economic growth.” The act has also driven up shipping costs from the U.S. mainland to Puerto Rico by more than double the costs versus neighboring islands.

McCain introduced the legislation along with Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) in an effort to get desperately needed supplies delivered to the island quicker and for a lesser cost.

The Trump administration granted a 10-day Jones Act waiver for Puerto Rico on Thursday, but the senators argue it will not be enough time to allow the island to recover from the devastating effects of Hurricane Maria.

In a statement, McCain called the 10-day exemption “insufficient to help the people of Puerto Rico recover and rebuild from Hurricane Maria.”

“It’s time for Congress to take action, end this injustice, and help our fellow citizens in this time of need,” part of the statement read.

At least 16 people in Puerto Rico have been killed since Hurricane Maria swept through the island last week, shortly after Hurricane Irma skirted the island earlier this month.

The two storms have left millions of Americans without food, water or power. Officials estimate that it could take up to six months for the power on the island to be fully restored.

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