Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Are Shellfish Growers Eligible for Federal Aid? Rep. Courtney's Office Clarifies and Explains

Representative Joe Courtney’s staff got in touch with me this afternoon to clarify the question of whether Long Island Sound shellfish growers are eligible for federal aid in the aftermath of Hurricane Irene and, if so, what kind of aid they might be eligible for.

The call was prompted by two recent posts of mine: one that cited a Connecticut Mirror story saying they oystermen and clammers were not eligible for USDA disaster assistance; and another that cited Brendan Smith, the proprietor of the Thimble Island Oyster Co., who said Courtney was wrong and that he (Smith) was already working with federal agencies to get help. Those posts are here and here.

The issue is particularly important to Smith because, he says, Hurricane Irene killed 80 percent of his oysters and destroyed half his equipment.

I just got off the phone with Courtney’s office. Here’s what I was told:

During a September 12 phone call among federal officials to discuss disaster aid for Connecticut’s farmers, someone asked whether shellfish growers were eligible for USDA disaster aid.

The answer was clear: although shellfish growers are considered farmers in Connecticut, they are not recognized as such in the federal regulations that govern disaster aid to farmers. Therefore they are not eligible for USDA disaster aid.

But that does not mean they are not eligible for other aid, in particular through FEMA and the Small Business Administration. Courtney’s office is working with both agencies to get help for local shellfish growers.

They also may be eligible for assistance if the Secretary of Commerce declares a “fishery failure,” which he can do only if asked by Governor Malloy.

If Malloy asks, and if the Commerce Secretary concurs, then money will have to be made available through the disaster aid bill now being debated in Congress. Connecticut’s Congressional delegation, led by Representative Rosa DeLauro, wrote last week to Speaker Boehner and Minority Leader Pelosi, asking that shellfish growers be included in that bill, but it is unknown whether they will be.

Thanks to Courtney's office for getting intouch, and kudos to them to keeping an eye on Twitter, which is where this originated.


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