Young pitches Jones Act waiver to aid cruise ships

  • The Carnival Cruise Lines Cruise Ship Carnival Spirit enters the Tongass Narrows in Alaska in from Vancouver, British Columbia. Alaska Rep. Don Young is proposing a Jones Act waiver that would allow cruise ships to bypass Canada en route to the state if its ports remain closed due to COVID-19 precautions. (Photo/Chip Porter/Design Pics/Zuma Press/Tribune News Service)

Opening up the economy to help the country overcome the pandemic should be the priority, according to Rep. Don Young, who said he fears another multitrillion-dollar coronavirus relief package could start to push the country towards a period of rapid inflation.

Young said during an Oct. 15 interview at his Anchorage campaign office that the Senate proposal for a smaller relief bill to aid the hardest hit industries of roughly $500 billion makes the most sense in the long-term.

“We have a lot of people that say, ‘Just print more money,’” Young said.

“We have to be very careful about a country that spends money it doesn’t have.”

He expects the debate over the size and contents of the latest relief bill won’t be settled until after the election.

“I don’t think they would dare call anybody back right now,” he said of congressional leadership calling a vote during the final days of campaign season.

The Trump administration has floated a $1.8 trillion package in negotiations with House Democrats, who are backing their roughly $3 trillion HEROES Act.

The CARES Act passed in March totaled about $2.2 trillion.

By Oct. 21 national outlets were reporting negotiations on the relief package were stalling and a deal seemed more likely to come after the election.

A spokeswoman for the campaign of Young’s independent challenger, Alyse Galvin, did not respond to questions about pandemic aid in time for this story.

The best way to help the hardest hit industries in Alaska — the intertwined aviation and tourism sectors — is to get the Lower 48 economy producing again, according to Young.

He noted the absence of the more than 1.3 million cruise ship passengers expected visit the state this year not only hit Southeast where the ships spend most of their time but Fairbanks and other parts of the state where blended tour itineraries take visitors.

“Tourism money is surplus money and if you don’t have a strong economy in the Lower 48 you’re not going to get tourists to Alaska,” Young said.

To that end, he is working on finding ways to make sure cruise ships can get to Alaska if the passenger demand materializes next year but Canadian ports and border crossings remain closed.

Young said while he supports the broader objectives of the Jones Act, a century-old law meant to bolster the domestic maritime industry by requiring commercial ships traveling between U.S. ports to be U.S. made, he would like to see a temporary exemption for cruise ships traveling between Alaska and Pacific Northwest ports.

As it stands, large cruise ships — nearly all of which are foreign-flagged — departing from the West Coast must stop in Vancouver before sailing to Alaska. However, federal officials in Canada continue to extend border closures and there’s no indication as to when the situation will change.

Young said he is in conceptual discussions with airline and cruise industry representatives regarding ways to reroute the traditional flow of cruise tourists into and out of the state if Canadian ports are still off-limits when the cruise season starts next spring.

“We believe the demand will be there; again, it all comes back to the Lower 48 economy,” he said.

Cruise Lines International Association Alaska spokeswoman Lanie Downs wrote via email that a Jones Act waiver could not have salvaged the 2020 season for the group’s member companies, which generally operate larger vessels, because of a Centers for Disease Control “No Sail” order prohibiting vessels carrying more than 250 passengers from operating through Oct. 31.

She emphasized that the cruise association is greatly appreciative of the delegation’s work to support the industry through the pandemic, but it’s far too early to tell what might be possible, or needed, for 2021.

“The industry has been completely shut down in the U.S. since March and right now we are primarily focused on a safe resumption of service with strong measures in place to protect passengers, crew and communities we visit,” Downs wrote.

Alaska Travel Industry Association CEO Sarah Leonard noted the group started advocating in March to the delegation for a Jones Act waiver for vessels with a capacity of 500 passengers or more until Canadian ports are open.

“This action remains a high priority federal assistance for tourism businesses in Alaska as a way to mitigate continued job and revenue loss due to COVID-19,” Leonard wrote in an email.

Alaska’s leisure and hospitality industry was down more than 15,000 jobs at the peak of the summer season compared to last year, according to Labor Department data.

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Elwood Brehmer can be reached at [email protected].

Updated: 
10/21/2020 - 9:05am