Seafood Source: Bipartisan COVID relief plan calls for more fishery support

A bipartisan group of lawmakers from both the U.S. Senate and House proposed on Tuesday, 1 December, a USD 908 billion (EUR 750.8 billion) COVID-19 relief package that would include additional funding for fisheries affected by the pandemic. That package includes USD 26 billion (EUR 21.5 billion) for nutrition and agriculture programs, which U.S. Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-Louisiana) said in a release would include assistance for fisheries. The exact amount or nature of the assistance was not made clear in the announcement. A spokesperson for Cassidy did not return a message seeking comment from SeafoodSource. Among those joining Cassidy in the announcement were U.S. Sens. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), Susan Collins (R-Maine), and Angus King (I-Maine).

“This is a bipartisan, bicameral effort that creates a pathway forward to bring relief to those who need it most,” Cassidy said. “Republicans and Democrats in both chambers got much of what we wanted, and neither got everything we wanted. That combination reflects what Congress is supposed to do: reconcile priorities and deliver for the American people.”

The bipartisan proposal calls for USD 288 billion (EUR 238.1 billion) in additional funding for the Paycheck Protection Program. That funding pool would also cover support for restaurants that have been decimated by orders to close or severely restrict indoor dining availability over the past eight months.

“I am particularly pleased that this package includes funding for another round of Paycheck Protection Program forgivable loans, which has helped keep our small businesses afloat,” Collins said. “In Maine alone, the PPP has helped sustain the jobs of 250,000 workers.”

In March, Congress passed the CARES Act, which included USD 300 million (USD 248 million) in direct funding for fisheries, distributed at the state level. In addition, fishermen were eventually able to secure access to Paycheck Protection Program funding, which was meant to help small businesses keep workers on the payroll during the early stages of the pandemic.

However, industry leaders and lawmakers representing fishing states said more funding would be needed. They also lobbied the U.S. Department of Agriculture to bolster spending on seafood for inclusion in the Section 32 program that purchases surplus food produced domestically for public nutrition programs. While the lawmakers were hopeful this proposal would be considered by Democratic leaders in the House and Republicans in the Senate, at least one leader appeared cool to the idea.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky) unveiled his own plan Tuesday after talking with officials from the administration of U.S. President Donald Trump. Few details were available, but The Hill reported that the Kentucky Republican’s plan would include additional PPP funding and an extension for unemployment insurance.

“We just don’t have time to waste time,” McConnell said when asked about the bipartisan plan,” according to The Hill.

By:  Steve Bittenbender
Source: Seafood Source