Fisheries Aid/Cares Act Preliminary Information

It goes without saying that the COVID-19 pandemic has turned all of our lives upside-down over the past month. Here on the east coast, the outbreak comes just as the recreational for-hire fleet is making bookings for the upcoming season and anglers flood local tackle shops to stock up on their favorite gear. All of that economic activity has ground to a halt as several states have closed non-essential businesses, charter clients have canceled or delayed bookings, and anglers have largely been confined to their homes to comply with social-distancing protocols. The outlook for those who depend on recreational fisheries to make a living is, to say the least, uncertain for the remainder of the year.

Last week, ASGA Vice President and Policy Director Tony Friedrich penned a letter to leadership in the U.S. Senate and the U.S. House of Representatives with a simple message: Don’t forget about us. Don’t forget about the hundreds of thousands of jobs supported by recreational fishing, including numerous small-business owners who are eligible for traditional unemployment benefits.

Well, we’re happy to report that, thanks to leadership in the Senate, several provisions to help guides, tackle shop owners, and lure manufacturers weather the COVID-19 storm were secured in the $2.2 trillion Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, which President Trump signed into law last Friday.

We just got off a conference call led by Senator Ed Markey (D-MA) to discuss the bill and how it can help the seafood and recreational fishing industries in the coming months. Senator Markey has been a steadfast and diligent supporter of fishermen and their communities as COVID-19 lays siege to our nation, recently leading with Senator Murkowski (R-AK) a letter to Senate leadership urging that robust financial assistance be included for the industry. Senators Warren (D-MA) and Sullivan (R-AK) are all part of this effort. They are standing up for fishermen everywhere. You all should send them messages thanking them for their efforts.

During the call, Senator Markey described several aspects of the CARES Act that will help our businesses:

  1. Expanding unemployment benefits, and including the self-employed

Many folks in our industry are self-employed, and typically wouldn’t be eligible to file for unemployment. The CARES Act allows for the SELF EMPLOYED to receive benefits that they would receive under state law , plus an additional $600 per week for up to 13 weeks. So, just to be very clear… this is ON TOP OF WHAT YOUR RESPECTIVE STATE CAN DO FOR YOU. They did not forget about us… remember that folks. We have some amazing people working extremely hard for you at the highest level of government. Our system is working and our leaders are listening.

  • Small business assistance

The bill includes a new payroll loan forgiveness program that will enable small business owners to continue to pay their employees at no cost to them as the pandemic continues to unfold. To stay afloat, owners can also apply for low-interest Small Business Association Economic Injury Disaster Loans, and they can request an advance of up to $10,000 to be received within three days.

  • $300 million in fisheries disaster assistance

This direct financial assistance will be available to anyone in the fishing industry—broadly defined in the bill—who has suffered revenue losses more than 35% compared to the previous five-year average (we’re still learning the details of how exactly this figure will be calculated). The delivery of fishery disaster relief has historically been notoriously slow, but we’ll be fighting to ensure that these payments are disbursed to those who need them as quickly as possible.

  • Direct payments

The bill will also provide $1200 in direct payments for folks who earn less than $75,000 per year, with a smaller direct payment for anyone earning up for $99,000 per year. If married and filing jointly, the number is $150,000 adjusted gross income for the year.

NOAA will facilitate the distribution of funds. They have established this website to keep us all informed.  It includes an email address (nmfs.covid-19@noaa.gov). Use this email to share info about the impacts to your business, what your needs are, and collaborate on ideas to bolster your business. All of this information will go into the decision making process of how these funds will be applied.

We’ll continue to provide updates with guidance as to how to take advantage of these programs as those details become available. We are doing a deep dive now on the legislation and will provide a longer and more technical article that we hope will be a resource for you in this process. Expect that by mid next week.

We are all in this together. Let’s show the world how strong the fishing community can be. Stay healthy because we are going to be part of the greatest comeback anyone has ever seen.

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