House passes COVID stimulus bill, Trump expected to sign soon

Published on
March 27, 2020

The U.S. House of Representatives followed the U.S. Senate’s lead on Friday, 27 March, and passed the USD 2 trillion (EUR 1.81 trillion) Coronavirus Aid Relief and Economic Security (or CARES) Act, a stimulus package that includes hundreds of millions of dollars in aid earmarked for the seafood industry.

U.S. President Donald Trump has indicated he will sign the bill as soon as today.

The legislation includes direct payments of USD 1,200 (EUR 1,080) to millions of U.S. citizens, expanded jobless aid, USD 377 billion (EUR 339.6 billion) in federally guaranteed loans to small businesses, USD 500 billion (EUR 450.4 billion) in government lending for distressed companies, and billions more for hospitals and other businesses and organizations dealing directly with the health aspects of the crisis.

A USD 300 million (EUR 270.3 million) earmark in the bill is aimed at helping fisheries- and aquaculture-related independent operators who are not otherwise covered by agricultural disaster assistance programs, according to National Fisherman. The language in the fisheries portion of the bill stipulates assistance for tribal, subsistence, commercial, and charter fishery participants affected by the novel coronavirus. In order to receive funding, a business must show economic revenue losses greater than 35 percent as compared to its prior five-year average revenue.

Funds may be awarded on a rolling basis “and within a fishing season to ensure rapid delivery of funds,” which will remain available until 30 September, 2021, National Fisherman reported. The agency that will oversee applications for relief funds under the Commerce Department is to be determined.

Gavin Gibbons, a spokesperson for the National Fisheries Institute, the largest trade group representing the U.S. seafood industry, said many seafood businesses in the United States are already in need of aid.

“Seafood accounts for more than 1.2 million U.S. jobs from water to table. The men and women working at sea and those farming fish start this complex system and helping them is important. But the relief act also accounts for other workers vital to the fish supply chain, like processing and distribution. It is essential that the entire value chain be helped,” Gibbons said. “It does no good to catch fish if it just sits on the dock.”

Isaak Hurst, the founder and principal attorney at the Seattle, Washington-based International Maritime Group, which provides legal services to the fishing, seafood, maritime and international trade businesses, said the CARES Act will provide the fishing and seafood industry “some real financial help.”

“All in, this is great news for the fishing and seafood industry, especially because ‘fishery participants’ is so broadly defined, which means the potential applicant pool could arguably apply to more than just the fisherman and processors. Indeed, it’s not hard to imagine the swath of seafood businesses that could be classified as ‘other fishery-related businesses,” he told SeafoodSource. “The point being, this legislative ambiguity is great news for distressed businesses that have been negatively impacted by the coronavirus, which is why any individuals or entities in the fishing or seafood industry should jump on this financial opportunity afforded by Congress. It’s rare to get help from Uncle Sam these days and when the money is gone, it’s gone.”

Additional relief will come from the U.S. government in the form of two new exemptions granted by the U.S. Trade Representative on tariffs on tilapia and red swimming crab imported from China. While the USTR had made a point of rejecting seafood-related exclusion requests until the coronavirus crisis, it approved the requests of

Brooklyn, New York-based importer Dagim Tahorim Co. to bring in tilapia, and St. Petersburg, Florida-based Newport International of Tierra Verde’s request to import red swimming crab, without being subject to tariffs.

The benefit of the decisions will be felt by more than those two companies, however. The exclusions can be used by other U.S. companies importing products with the same codes under the harmonized classification system, and the exclusions are retroactive, meaning any company affected by the tariff in the past can apply for reimbursement from the government for duties previously paid.

Photo courtesy of Aaron Schwartz/Shutterstock

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