Lawmakers from the U.S. state of Massachusetts sent a letter to U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross on Wednesday, 29 April, citing their “frustration and concern” over the lack of action on a USD 300 million (EUR 274.1 million) relief package for American fisheries that Congress passed a month ago.
In the letter, U.S. Sens. Ed Markey and Elizabeth Warren, along with U.S. Reps. Seth Moulton and Bill Keating, sent Ross a list of five questions regarding the aid that was part of the USD 2.2 trillion (EUR 2.01 trillion) CARES Act. President Donald Trump signed the bill into law on 27 March.
On 2 April, the Democratic lawmakers noted, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) posted six sentences about fisheries aid on its website, along with an email address for stakeholders to share information. They said it’s “simply unacceptable” no additional statements have been made since then.
The lawmakers said their work with the Commerce Department and the Office of Management Budget (OMB) indicated “bureaucratic inefficiencies” are behind the delays, as officials from Commerce, NOAA, NOAA Fisheries, and OMB have given them conflicting information about the process.
“In short, the guidance delay appears to have resulted from an unclear chain of command marked by finger-pointing,” they wrote. “Unfortunately, this is not entirely unsurprising … However, we would expect that during this pandemic, the Commerce Department and its bureaus would make concerted efforts to address these shortcomings.”
Under the CARES Act, fishermen and other fishing-related businesses can seek relief funding if they lose 35 percent of their income based on a five-year average. While past disaster relief bills have required the calculation to take place after a fishery season ends, the CARES Act says it can be done on a rolling basis to account for active fishing seasons.
However, the lawmakers said the federal government needs to provide guidance on what timeframe applicants should use to calculate their losses.
“This silence and delay poses a particular problem because fishery participants do not know how to determine whether they will be eligible for the CARES Act assistance,” the lawmakers wrote.
The letter came less than a week after the Seafood Harvesters of America sent Ross a similar letter expressing their concerns.
Among the questions the Massachusetts lawmakers want answered by 6 May include: when federal guidance on applying for assistance will be published; whether the public have a chance to comment on it; and when Commerce expects it will be able to send aid to fishermen and businesses.
Photo courtesy of Office of U.S. Senator Edward Markey