Some Cases Still Pending
July 22, 2004
The USDA Farm Service Agency has approved checks so far for 1,415 Alaska fishermen and still has 1,618 applications pending. So far, the government has approved $3.22 million in aid to Alaska salmon fishermen, about 100 fishermen gaining the yearly maximum payment of $10,000. The payments, so far, average $2,276. The payments come to 3 cents per pound for salmon harvested by qualified fishermen.
"Alaska fishermen for years have been facing lower prices because of competition from foreign, farm-raised salmon. Last year we succeeded in getting Alaska's fishermen to be treated just like farmers and qualified to receive the same aid farmers receive to offset lower prices caused by trade competition. Our fishermen are farmers of the sea and deserve this aid.
"It won't offset all of their losses, but it will help fishermen deal with the effects of lower prices in the past and provide some aid to offset the high cost this summer of fuel," said Murkowski in announcing the TAA payments. "The program as applied to fishermen clearly still has some glitches that need to be fixed, but it was a good first step toward getting our fishermen the aid they deserve," said Murkowski.
She noted that of the 4,362 Alaska salmon fishermen that formally applied for aid 928 have been denied, so far, because of a key provision that to qualify for aid they had to show an actual loss in income between 2001 and 2002 - not just a loss from their salmon operations. Another 57 fishermen have been denied aid because they did not fish in 2002, while another 336 failed to meet the application deadline that closed this past winter.
Murkowski, who has been working to get the income regulations changed before the 2003 aid application period opens this fall, urged the 1,618 fishermen whose application for aid for 2002 is still pending review to turn in any additional documentation needed to support their claims by the Sept. 30, 2004 deadline. According to the USDA Farm Service Agency it is generally awaiting fishermen to turn in proof of their income for 2002 - the IRS Schedule C form - before completing processing of the applications. If the forms are not turned in by Sept. 30, the claims will automatically be denied.
Murkowski said applicants who have been approved should start receiving payments within a few days via electronic funds transfers, while the printed checks will be mailed out within the next few weeks.
The Senator said the Department is automatically checking to see if Alaska fishermen qualify for the aid based upon prices they received for their catch in 2003. If fishermen are found to qualify - a likely occurrence based upon prices last year - the application period for the checks should open early this fall (probably in October) right after the 2004 summer fishing season ends to give fishermen more time to complete the application process.
Quoting a news release, Murkowski last August convinced the Bush Administration to classify salmon fishermen as farmers so they could qualify for the TAA for Farmers program, an aid program created in 2002 by Congress. The program provides aid equal to half of the loss of income farmers and fishermen face because of price competition from foreign products, if a threshold level of lost income is reached by commodity. The aid, which is provided by the USDA's Foreign Agricultural Service, is capped at $10,000 per individual during any calendar year up to a nationwide cost of $90 million a year.
A second part of the TAA program can also provide job retraining assistance for Alaskan fishermen. That aid is being provided by the U.S. Department of Labor, which so far has made $8 million available for retraining, including a new $4 million grant just last month.
Details of the TAA salmon aid program are available at http://www.fsa.usda.gov/dafp/psd/taa/htm. More information is also available by calling Chad Padgett, state executive director for the USDA Farm Service Agency at 907/761-7738.
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