The U.S. Department of Treasury and the Small Business Administration announced on Thursday, 25 June, that commercial fishing vessel owners are now eligible to apply for Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans.
The loan program is a COVID-19 relief initiative designed to enable small business owners to keep workers on the payroll as the coronavirus impacted their operations. The loans can be fully forgivable if the recipient uses at least 60 percent of the funding toward paying workers.
Thursday’s move comes after a concerted effort by a number of industry representatives and lawmakers from key fishing states pushed the Trump administration to amend the program and allow vessel owners to include crewmembers who are independent contractors and not direct employees in their payroll costs.
U.S. Sen Dan Sullivan (D-Alaska) said in a statement that fishermen had waited too long for the “common-sense fix,” but he was still thankful the Treasury Department made the change.
“I’m also grateful for the many fishermen in our state who have reached out to my office proposing solutions,” he said. “Going forward, we will continue to work with the fishing industry to ensure that they can take full advantage of federal funds offered as a result of COVID-19 and ongoing stabilization efforts.”
The changes come, though, as time is winding down on the program. All PPP loans must be approved no later than 30 June. Congress allocated more than USD 650 billion (EUR 578.59 billion) for the program, and according to the SBA, more than 4.7 million loans have been approved worth a total of USD 517.1 billion (EUR 460.29 billion).
The fishing community celebrated the news.
In a statement, Leigh Habegger, executive director of Seafood Harvesters of America, thanked Alaska’s congressional delegation for their work in getting fishermen access to the forgivable loans.
“Extending the program to fishermen impacted by the pandemic will be a critical lifeline so they can continue to provide Americans with the safest, most sustainable seafood in the world,” Habegger said. “We urge all eligible fishermen to take advantage of this program before the application deadline on June 30.”
Saving Seafood also worked in pursuing changes to allow more fishermen access to funding. In a statement, the industry organization thanked Kelley Drye attorney David Frulla, Atlantic Offshore Lobstermen’s Association Executive Director David Borden and Port of New Bedford Deputy Director Pamela Lafreniere for their assistance in getting the changes made. The industry advocacy organization worked closely with Joseph Russo, a special assistant to President Trump in the White House Office of Public Liaison, and Patrick Wilson, director of the business liaison office in the U.S. Department of Commerce, to address the issue with Treasury and SBA officials.
In making the change, the SBA reiterated that fishing boat owners cannot claim payroll costs for any independent contractor who already received a PPP loan.
“Due to the increased risk of duplicate payroll costs, PPP loans to fishing boat owners are more likely to be subject to an SBA loan review,” the SBA stated in the interim final rule marking the change.
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