By Richard Gaines
---- — Two newly released U.S. House Rules Committee amendments combine to roughly match the Senate appropriation totaling $60 billion for Superstorm Sandy relief, but virtually eliminate the $150 million for fisheries disaster aid aimed at providing relief to the Northeast groundfishery, including fishermen working out of Gloucester.
One amendment for $17 billion, filed by Rep. Hal Rogers, a Kentucky Republican and chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, contains no money for the fisheries disasters of Massachusetts, four other New England states and New York, as well as Mississippi’s oyster fishery and Alaska’s Chinook salmon fishery.
The other amendment, calling for $33.677 billion and filed by Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen, a New Jersey Republican, contains just $5 million for the economic fisheries disaster declared by acting Commerce Secretary Rebecca Blank last September.
Republican senators and representatives have been critical of the size of the Sandy disaster relief package, and have described the fisheries’ relief as pork.
The House amendments were released late Monday or early Tuesday. A spokesman for Congressman James McGovern of Worcester, the second ranking Democrat on the Rules Committee, said the Republican plan is to use the Rogers bill as a template for amendments to be filed by Friday. The committee will decide which can be voted on the floor next week.
A spokesman for the Rules Committee said the approach allows members to decide how large a Sandy relief package they want approved. The tactic is being seen as a harbinger of ill for the fishing communities facing disasters.
Congressman John Tierney of Salem, whose district includes Cape Ann, was sharply critical of the machination Tuesday.
“After failing to pass the Senate package last week, House Republican leadership is now further complicating the process by offering its own legislation that does not go far enough to help the families and businesses affected by the fishery disasters declared in Massachusetts and other states,” Tierney said in an email to the Times.
“It is an extremely frustrating and disappointing development when our fishing community has already waited so long to receive this necessary support,” he added. “Although it will be an uphill battle, I will continue to work with my colleagues in the days ahead to improve and potentially amend this legislation so our fishermen get the assistance they need.”
Under intense pressure from the delegations of New Jersey and New York State, the The House and Senate agreed to appropriate $9.7 billion to cover insurance claims for people whose homes were damaged by the late October superstorm, which also brushed Cape Ann.
With nearly $10 billion of the original $60.4 billion approved, the Rogers and Freilinghuysen amendments, if adopted en toto, would account for the full amount of Sandy relief, but without the vast majority of the fisheries relief.
Efforts to release Rogers and Freihinghuysen late Tuesday were unsuccessful.
Just before the end the year, the Senate voted 60-32 to send the Sandy bill — with the $150 million fisheries relief appropriation — to the House. The effort to provide financial help to the Northeast groundfishing industry states was made more difficult by the delay in conceding the groundfishery had failed, based on existing data and extrapolations of far worse times to come inevitably in 2013.
U.S. Sen. John Kerry led the Senate efforts to get the fisheries disaster relief included in the special supplemental bill for Sandy victims, which reached more than $60 billion. The new fishing cycle for the groundfishery begins May 1, 2013 and runs through April 30, 2014.
The first and most comprehensive effort at the showing of a fisheries failure as defined by the Magnuson-Stevens Act was made in November 2011 by Gov. Deval Patrick, using two socio-economic studies and reference to NOAA data organized by the Massachusetts Fisheries Institute. Within weeks, New Hampshire and Maine also filed for disaster declarations, and Connecticut, Rhode Island and Connecticut filed more recently.
NOAA Administrator Jane Lubchenco assured the Senate Commerce Committee in October 2011 that the disaster declaration material would be fast tracked for a rapid decision, but nothing was heard until September, just as attention was diverted to the elections.
On Dec. 12, Lubchenco announced her decision to resign at the end of February. In an internal email to NOAA employees, she made no reference to the Commerce Department’s declared “economic disaster” in the fisheries, saying instead that she was proud of “notable progress” in returning commercial fishing to “profitability.”
Richard Gaines can be reached at 978-283-7000, x3464, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.