Foreign workers—worker under the CNMI-Only Transitional Workers program—are eligible to tap into the $980,000 Coronavirus, Recovery, and Economic Security Act’s assistance to commercial fishermen and subsistence fishermen in the CNMI affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, according to Division of Fish and Wildlife director Manny Pangelinan.
To qualify, these CW workers must be in the fishing industry and are here legally or have a current approved immigration status, added Pangelinan, speaking at a radio news briefing last Wednesday.
On Monday, Gov. Ralph DLG Torres and Pangelinan announced the allocation of $980,000 through the CARES ACT, after the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration approved the CNMI’s CARES Act “Spending Plan.”
Torres said all resident fishermen and qualified fishing businesses who sustained losses are eligible.
At that press conference, Pangelinan said it’s up to the state to determine whether CW workers are allowed or not to avail of this assistance. Torres later told Pangelinan to take the lead on this.
When asked to clarify in that Monday’s press conference whether CW workers are eligible to apply for the cash assitance, 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 make this as flexible as they can.
All eligible applicants will receive assistance based on an approved formula that will determine the amounts of help for businesses and individual fishermen.
At Wednesday’s radio news briefing, Pangelinan said even a subsistence fisherman who will claim to have a $200 loss, he or she will still get some money based on the calculation that they have established.
Pangelinan said they started distributing application forms last Wednesday.
As of Tuesday, 16 came in to the Saipan Mayor’s Office to get the application forms, while 23 got the forms from the Division of Fish and Wildlife, he said.
Pangelinan has yet to receive a report on how many people got forms from the the Tinian and Rota mayor’s offices, Governor’s Office, and from the Department of Lands and Natural Resources, which also distributes the forms.
It is estimated that thousands of people and fishing businesses will be eligible for this assistance, but
Pangelinan said they have no estimate as to how many are eligible on Saipan, Tinian, and Rota.
“It is very difficult to quantify that because there’s a lot of subsistence fishermen,” Pangelinan said.
He said it is easier to quantify commercial fishermen, aquaculture fishermen, fish processors, and fish dealers.
The director said subsistence fishermen are those doing rod and reel, or spear fishing, or even cast net.
Pangelinan said they have started a public outreach to inform everybody about this program to help relieve some of the economic loses of fishermen in the CNMI.
The CNMI government is not going to release the money; it’s the Pacific States Marine Fisheries Commission. The distribution of assistance checks to approved businesses and fishermen will be made directly via mail from the NOAA Hawaii Office between May 3 and June 16, 2021.
Press secretary Kevin Bautista earlier that 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.