US lawmakers calling for more fishery relief funding and changes in allocation

U.S. lawmakers are continuing the call for more funding for the seafood industry, which has been battered by the COVID-19 crisis. However, the window for such funding may be closing.

States with seafood industries received a collective USD 300 million (EUR 264.2 million) in funding through the CARES Act in March, and officials from the Trump administration announced the allocation splits of those funds last month. However, even before those allocations were announced, elected officials from both parties and fishing sector leaders were saying it would not be enough to cover the damage the coronavirus has wreaked on the industry.

While food processing has been considered an essential service, not all fishermen have been able to get out into the water due to social distancing limitations and processing facility closures, and those able to make it out sold to a depressed market because restaurants were either closed or limited to take-out and delivery.

Even those states that received the lion’s share of the initial funding have pushed for more. Both Alaska and Washington each received USD 50 million (EUR 44.1 million) from CARES Act funding, but U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) told KDLG Radio on Monday, 1 June, that amount won’t be “sufficient” to cover the state’s needs.

"I have been working with colleagues to urge us in this next round of relief to include USD 1 billion [EUR 880.4 million] in fishery assistance funds,” she said.

Some are even working on getting the USD 300 million reallocated. According to The Salem News, U.S. Rep. Joe Kennedy III (D-Massachusetts) sent a letter to U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, questioning the process. Massachusetts received more than USD 28 million (EUR 24.7 million), but Kennedy noted that only works out to USD 288 (EUR 254) per fishing job in the state. That’s nearly USD 700 (EUR 617) per worker less than some other states.

"I urge you to work with NOAA Fisheries to reconsider Massachusetts's allocation and the use of employment data in the administration's funding methodology," Kennedy wrote. "Massachusetts fishermen are fighting to stay in business during an unprecedented health and economic crisis. Please do not make them fight alone."

In addition to the direct funding, lawmakers successfully got the U.S. Department of Agriculture to purchase millions of dollars in seafood products for children’s lunch and other public programs through the CARES Act.

The House passed additional fishery funding in its most recent COVID-19 relief bill, but that amounts to only USD 100 million (EUR 88.1 million). However, that bill has been held up in the Senate, where Republicans in the majority there have expressed concerns about other provisions in the USD 3 trillion (EUR 2.6 trillion) bill.

And it’s possible, lawmakers and industry leaders will not get more chances to seek funding. In meeting with reporters last week in Kentucky, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said the next COVID-19 relief bill would be the federal government’s final one, and said he would like the legislation to focus on jobs.

Photo courtesy of Office of U.S. Rep. Joe Kennedy III


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