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January 9, 2013

House plan guts aid for fisheries

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.

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