$980K aid available to fishermen

CW workers likely eligible

Gov. Ralph DLG Torres, center, discusses the allocation of $980,000 to assist CNMI fishermen during a press conference yesterday. Other in photo are, from left to right, Lands and Natural Resources Secretary Antonio Benavente, Saipan Mayor David Apatang, and Division of Fish and Wildlife director Manny Pangelinan.

Gov. Ralph DLG Torres announced yesterday the allocation of $980,000 in CARES Act funds to assist commercial and subsistence fishermen in the CNMI—estimated to be in the thousands—who’ve been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Torres said at a press conference that the money is available after the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration approved the CNMI’s “spending plan” for the money it got from the Coronavirus Aid, Recovery, and Economic Security Act.

Torres said all resident fishermen and qualified fishing businesses who sustained losses are eligible.

Qualifying businesses refer to commercial fishing businesses, charter-for-hire fishing businesses, qualified aquaculture businesses, fish processors, and dealers.

All eligible applicants will receive assistance based on an approved formula that will determine the amounts of help for businesses and individual fishermen.

Application distribution will begin tomorrow, Wednesday, and the deadline to submit applications is March 1, 2021.

The distribution of assistance checks will be made directly via mail from the NOAA Hawaii Office to approved businesses and fishermen between May 3 and June 16, 2021.

On Saipan, the applications will be available at the Department of Lands and Natural Resources, Office of Grants Management, and the Saipan Mayor’s Office. On Tinian and Rota, their respective mayor’s offices will distribute the applications.

Division of Fish and Wildlife director Manny Pangelinan said they have gone through a lengthy meeting with NOAA, which answered all their questions as to who are eligible or not. He said the CNMI’s CARES Act “spending plan” that NOAA approved addresses all those criteria.

Pangelinan said they have already developed a timeline so that everybody will know every phase of the program.

It’s not the CNMI government that is going to release the money; it’s the Pacific States Marine Fisheries Commission, he said. “We do all the job here. We review all the applications, we send it up to the commission. The commission will send out to individuals the check to receive the money,” he said.

He said they give 90 days for the application process in order for people and businesses to have adequate time to submit their applications.

He said they are going to inform those who are found ineligible and there is a seven-day appeal process for them.

“So all of these need to be addressed before we send everything to the commission,” he said.

Pangelinan said the bulk of the work has already been done as the hard part was developing the “spending plan.” He said the calculation that they use in the CNMI is similar to the one adopted by other U.S. jurisdictions. “That calculation will work where everybody gets a piece of a pie. We check that calculation, we double check it, we triple check it, that everybody will receive money,” the director said.

Pangelinan said it is not across the board, but depends on someone’s loss. “We categorize it by commercial, aquaculture, and so forth. So if you submit a loss of $10,000 and this one submits a loss of $5,000, it will not be the same. The formula is the same,” Pangelinan said.

Torres underscored the importance for the community to understand that they are vetted.

Torres said he is sure there will be some questions along the way, but that it’s very important that there is a process.

DLNR Secretary Antonio T. Benavente said they don’t want to make it hard on fishermen. “We want to try and assist them and the quickest means of recouping their loss is the application,” Benavente said.

Benavente said the distribution process is there so it’s now up to the fishermen and commercial businesses apply and fill up the application as soon as possible.

Epi Cabrera, administrator for the Office of Grants Management, said the commission is the one releasing the checks. Cabrera said the CNMI government opted to have the commission distribute the checks so that the federal arm will be the ones mailing it.

When Cabrera asked Pangelinan to clarify whether CW workers are eligible to apply, Pangelinan said the law is not clear as it only says it’s up to the state to determine whether CW workers are allowed or not. “What we are getting now is either you are a green card-holder or a U.S. citizen,” Pangelinan said.

Torres told Pangelinan to take the lead on this. “And all I want is to make sure that we give as much as we can to our fishermen and make sure that we give this assistance, and follow the program and the formula that you guys have worked so hard,” Torres said.

Torres asked those eligible to take advantage of this program. “Be straight and honest on the application so that we can assist everyone that falls into the right category,” Torres said.

When asked to clarify whether CW workers are eligible to apply, Torres said they are going to go back and discussed it thoroughly. Torres said they are going to see what that formula is, but hinted that they want to be make this as flexible as they can.

Press secretary Kevin Bautista said the CNMI government, through Torres, made a request to NOAA and the Pacific States Marine Fisheries Commission to expand eligibility for all fishermen that fall into the categories of commercial and subsistence fishermen.

Bautista said Torres specifically made a request to include the eligibility of CW workers and everyone, regardless of immigration status, who are fishermen and fall into those eligible categories.

“The CNMI government has the discretion to distribute the funds. It looks like we’ll be able to provide those benefits to fishermen regardless of their immigration status, as long as they fit the categories prescribed under the CARES Act program,” Bautista said.

Ferdie De La Torre | Reporter
Ferdie Ponce de la Torre is a senior reporter of Saipan Tribune. He has a bachelor’s degree in journalism and has covered all news beats in the CNMI. He is a recipient of the CNMI Supreme Court Justice Award. Contact him at ferdie_delatorre@Saipantribune.com
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