Lawmakers say West Coast seafood industry excluded from USDA CARES Act program

A group of 10 West Coast lawmakers have reached out to U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack to see why fishermen and processors in their region have largely been left out of a program created through COVID-19 relief measures.

Led by U.S. Senator Jeff Merkley (D-Oregon), the Senators and House members sent a letter to Vilsack noting that the fishing industry in California, Oregon, and Washington state account for more than USD 500 million (EUR 417.5 million) in seafood products produced in the country, roughly about 13 percent of all domestic seafood goods.

Congress, through the CARES Act last year, passed both direct aid to U.S. fishermen and called on the Department of Agriculture to purchase more seafood products in its Section 32 program. Other COVID-19 relief packages, including the American Rescue Plan, have also included in Section 32 funding for seafood products.

“During these unprecedented times, USDA’s procurement programs are critical to filling an incredibly important void – one that ensures that food production essential workers stay employed, supply chains keep operating, and America’s nutritional needs are met,” the lawmakers wrote. “We appreciate USDA’s efforts to date to expand its long-standing purchasing programs to include seafood products from various U.S. regions. However, thus far, few of the procurements have focused on purchases of seafood products from the West Coast.”

The CARES Act called for the Department of Agriculture to spend USD 9.5 billion (EUR 7.9 billion) to purchase agricultural goods.

Besides Merkley, others signing the letter are U.S. Senators Ron Wyden (D-Oregon), Alex Padilla (D-California), and Patty Murray (D-Washington), and U.S. Representatives Peter DeFazio (D-Oregon), Earl Blumenauer (D-Oregon), Kurt Schrader (D-Oregon), Suzanne Bonamici (D-Oregon), Jared Huffman (D-California), and Derek Kilmer (D-Washington).

The Pacific lawmakers aren’t the only ones who have pressed the USDA to buy more seafood, as lawmakers from Massachusetts have taken similar measures to promote the purchase of products landed and produced in their state.

Besides the Section 32 program, the three states represented by the group received millions in direct aid for the industry through the CARES Act. Washington received USD 90 million (EUR 75.2 million) through two allocations, California received USD 33.8 million (EUR 28.2 million) and Oregon received USD 29.5 million (EUR 24.6 million).

Photo courtesy of the United States Senate via Wikipedia


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