As some in Congress question CARES Act allocations, lawmakers begin effort to secure more aid

On Thursday, 7 May, the Trump administration finally rolled out its plan for allocating the USD 300 million (EUR 276.6 million) in fishery relief aid earmarked in the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES Act). Reaction on Capitol Hill was nearly unanimous – more money will be needed, according to lawmakers on both sides of the aisle.

The U.S. Commerce Department awarded a third of the funding to two states, Alaska and Washington. Both states received USD 50 million (EUR 46.1 million) in aid. While Alaska is by far the leading seafood-producing state, producing 5.4 billion pounds of seafood worth USD 1.8 billion (EUR 1.66 billion) in 2019, some questioned the method by which the allocation was determined.

In a statement released Thursday, U.S. Rep. Garret Graves (R-Louisiana) questioned how his state, which ranked second to Alaska with one billion pounds of seafood landed in 2019m and fourth overall in total value of landings, with its seafood valued at USD 377.1 million  (EUR 347.7 million) last year, came out receiving only the eighth-highest amount of aid. He wondered if federal officials were “counting aquarium fish” for their allocations.

“It makes no sense. We have already reached out to the House Natural Resources Committee to request an investigation into these bogus allocations to the states,” Graves said. “Louisiana was only awarded 4.9 percent of this funding. How is it possible for Louisiana, one of the top fishing states in the nation, to only receive this much while other states with a fraction of a fishing industry get more money? This is a slap in the face.”

According to information on NOAA Fisheries website, federal officials used “readily available total revenue” data from commercial fishing, charter fishing, aquaculture and processors in determining allocation totals.

“NOAA Fisheries also took into consideration negative impacts to subsistence, cultural, and ceremonial fisheries during the allocation process,” the statement read.

Graves wasn’t alone in questioning how the funding was divvied up.

In his statement, U.S. Sen. Ed Markey (D-Massachusetts) questioned how his state only got USD 28 million (USD 25.8 million), still the third-highest allotment, even though its home to the Port of New Bedford, the most lucrative seafood landings port in the country.

“While the amount allocated for Massachusetts is lower than anticipated and requires explanation, it will help out struggling fishermen who are suffering during the pandemic,” he said. “I will continue to fight for more support for this historic and robust industry in upcoming coronavirus relief packages.”

For weeks after Congress passed the CARES Act, lawmakers from leading fishery states pressed Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross on details for how the money would be allocated. Last week, a congressional staffer told SeafoodSource that lawmakers were also working behind the scenes to push for even more funding as they heard from their constituents about their needs.

Earlier this week, US Rep. Jared Huffman (D-California), who chairs the House Natural Resources Committee’s Subcommittee on Water, Oceans and Wildlife, led a coalition of 45 bipartisan House members in sending a letter to Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-California) and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-California) calling for the USDA to buy USD 2 billion (EUR 1.84 billion) in domestic seafood products and for NOAA Fisheries to provide an additional USD 1.5 billion (EUR 1.38 billion) in direct aid to fisheries.

A similar letter from a bipartisan group of 25 senators went to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky) and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-New York).

U.S. Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-Louisiana), who signed the Senate letter, said the pandemic has devastated fisheries in his state.

“This is welcomed funding that will help our fisheries address their losses and make it through these very challenging times,” he said. “More needs to be done, but this is a great start,”

Huffman (D-California) has also pledged to use his committee leadership post to track how quickly the government disburses the funding and if it goes to those in need.

“I’m glad to see that this funding has finally left the Commerce Department, but the work isn’t done yet,” he said in a statement. “This money needs to quickly be delivered to all those whose businesses and jobs have been disrupted, and we need to see more support for the fishing and seafood sectors in the next congressional response.”

Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons


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