USD 300 million in aid earmarked for seafood industry in US stimulus package

The U.S. Senate late on Wednesday, 25 March, unanimously passed a USD 2 trillion (EUR 1.81 trillion) relief package for American businesses and individuals whose work has been affected by the coronavirus pandemic.

The bill now heads to the House, where passage is expected by the end of the week. President Trump has also indicated he would sign the bill into law.

The bill, the third taken up by Congress in relatively short order to address the country’s needs as the COVID-19 outbreak forces states and communities to close restaurants and enact other measures to contain the spread of the virus, includes specific aid for the fishing industry.

Among the relief the fishing industry is set to receive is USD 300 million (EUR 272 million) that will be available to tribal nations, fishermen, fishing communities, other fishery-related businesses and certain aquaculture businesses through the Commerce Department until 30 September, 2021.

Under the bill, those entities can receive aid if their revenue losses due to COVID-19 causes “any negative impacts” to fisheries or a loss greater than 35 percent of their prior five-year average revenue.

“This helps protect our food supply chains, and this targeted relief will help ensure that the families and the coastal communities that depend on our fisheries can emerge from this crisis,” U.S. Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) said on the Senate floor Wednesday night.

It comes a day after Saving Seafood’s National Coalition for Fishing Communities and fishing harvesters and processors sent letters to Congress and the Trump administration urging them to include the seafood industry in the package.

“The speed with which the domestic seafood industry has come together to speak with one voice is unprecedented,” Saving Seafood Executive Director Bob Vanasse said in a statement issued shortly after the Senate’s 96-0 vote. “There are many differences in our nation’s fisheries – geography, species, gear types, and management – but today our fisheries are simultaneously diverse and unified. We look forward to working together across traditional industry lines, and with elected officials and administrators, to ensure the aid the federal government is providing will flow fairly and equitably across regions and fisheries.”

Beyond the direct aid, the seafood industry and its workers can receive help through forgivable loans for businesses and expanded unemployment benefits. The Senate’s bill extends the period an individual can receive unemployment from 26 weeks to 39 weeks. In addition, the federal government is adding an extra USD 600 (EUR 544.10) weekly benefit for unemployed workers. However, the aid, which is to be added on top of each state’s unemployment benefit, is only available for four months. In addition, the unemployment benefit has been expanded to cover more than just hourly wage workers.

“I called for special protections for our gig workers and independent contractors, including self-employed fishermen, in this package, and now they will have a new Unemployment Insurance program to provide benefits,” said U.S. Sen. Edward Markey (D-Massachusetts) in a statement heralding the vote.

Markey joined U.S. Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-Massachusetts), Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), and Dan Sullivan (R-Alaska) in requesting the expansion, since many fishermen are either self-employed or independent contractors.

Moments after the vote, Sullivan went to the Senate floor and said this bill, which addressed immediate concerns, won’t be the last one taken up by Congress. A “phase four” proposal, which Sullivan said he will help put together, needs to “turbocharge” the economy.

“There's probably Americans who weren't covered in some way, shape, or form by this legislation who need help, and we're going to need to cover them quickly,” Sullivan said. “There's likely new challenges in this pandemic that seems to be changing every day. New challenges with regard to this crisis that we're going to need to address.”

Photo courtesy of Office of U.S. Senator Dan Sullivan


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