The first round of CARES (Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security) Act relief checks have begun arriving to people engaged in Alaska fisheries, and according to the Pacific States Marine Fisheries Commission, applications for round two relief checks will be available for Washington state and Alaska in late January.
Meanwhile in California, where round one fisheries relief checks were distributed in November 2020, the commission plans distribution of round two checks in the first quarter of 2022. California alone has over 11,500 potentially eligible funding applicants, according to state data.
For Hawaii, where round one fisheries relief checks were mailed out on Christmas Eve 2020, applications for round two are under review. In Oregon, state fisheries officials are still developing their spending plan, according to the commission’s website.
In Alaska, the last state in the region to receive distribution, the plan calls for commercial harvesters to get $3,308 per charge, for sport fishing charter operators to get $110,895.15 per share, for the seafood processing sector to get $101,927.62 per share, and for subsistence users to receive $380.68 per share, all out of the state’s $50 million allocation.
Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, and Alaska Rep. Louise Stutes, R-Kodiak, have been pushing for months to get those funds released to qualified fisheries interests. Stutes noted that qualified applicants in every other state have already received their fisheries relief checks and called PSMFC “the most dysfunctional organization” she has ever seen.
“Every time we called, they had a different excuse for why the checks weren’t going out,” she said.
Alaska Deputy Commissioner of Fish and Game Rachel Baker acknowledged concerns over the delayed payments, saying it was partially due to Alaska being the only state to put out a required spending plan that set aside a period of public comment before submitting it.
“We felt it was an important part of the project,” Baker said. Over a third of the applications submitted had errors in them, “and every single one of those applicants was followed up with, another reason for the delay,” she said.
“The commission should have had more staff, but they didn’t expect the volume of Alaska applications and we had to work with them to follow up with applicants,” Baker explained, adding that guidelines for distribution of the funds allowed nonresidents engaged in Alaska charter sport fisheries to qualify for checks, something she said the state had no control over.
According to information about the relief checks included on the PSMFC website, there was also a large percentage of applications from Oregon submitted with errors and omissions. The Oregon checks were mailed out in January 2021.
Details regarding the status of distribution of funds for round one and round two are available at https://relief.psmfc.org/alaska-cares-act-information/