Checks for 1,177 fishermen by early September
Early next month, a total of 1,177 commercial fishermen and subsistence fishermen in the CNMI affected by the COVID-19 pandemic may start receiving their checks, with the money coming out of the $980,000 fisheries assistance allocated for the CNMI under the Coronavirus, Recovery, and Economic Security Act, or CARES Act.
Office of Grants Management administrator Epiphanio Cabrera disclosed in an interview Wednesday that he received an email from the Pacific States Marine Fisheries Commission last July 27 that checks may be out in early September.
Cabrera said checks will go directly to the applicants’ P.O. boxes.
“We only upload all the documents,” he said.
The distribution of assistance checks to approved commercial fishermen and subsistence fishermen will be made directly via mail from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Hawaii Office.
The original date of distribution of checks was between May 3 and June 16, 2021.
Cabrera said that, according to Brian Bissell, a project manager of the Pacific States Marine Fisheries Commission, since the CNMI is the last one to submit its applications, it is the last one to get the checks.
“Yes, the money is coming,” Cabrera said.
He said they were expecting the checks last June 15, then July.
Cabrera said there was another change to the spending plan that the Pacific States Marine Fisheries Commission caught that it had to be corrected.
“So we fix that programmatically with them. And so far there’s no more feedback,” he said.
Cabrera said Bissell stated that he can’t give a specific date on when the checks will be mailed out at this point as they are and have been working on other states and territories.
He said that, according to Bissell, the CNMI was the last state to submit its applications, which means it’s unfortunately at the bottom of the queue.
Cabrera said Bissell stated that they’re all hands on deck and are working as hard as they can and as fast as they can, but it’s going to take several weeks.
He said Bissell recommends the release of checks by early September and that if it’s sooner, then that would be great.
“It’s all off our hands already,” said Cabrera, adding that all he can says is for the public to be patient.
Cabrera said there were 698 applicants on Saipan, 355 on Tinian, and 152 on Rota, for a total of 1,205 applicants. He said eight commercial fishermen and 20 subsistence fishermen, or a total of 28, were found non-eligible. Cabrera said this means 1,177 were deemed eligible to receive assistance.
Foreign workers—workers under the CNMI-Only Transitional Workers Program—are eligible for the program.
Cabrera said reasons for denials include incomplete tax forms and duplication of documents.
He estimated that each commercial fisherman will get an average of $5,875, while subsistence fishermen will get $713 each. He said there’s a small tax.
The OGM administrator also disclosed that they are expecting the Department of Lands and Natural Resources to roll out CARES Act fishing assistance part 2 soon.
He said DLNR Fish and Wildlife will be assisting in rolling out the fishing assistance Part 2 because OGM is overwhelmed and overextended.
Last March 29, the secretary of the U.S. Department of Commerce announced the allocation of an additional $255 million in fisheries assistance funding. The CNMI will get $411,002 of that allocation.