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Federal pandemic relief program expanded to include commercial fishing, but deadline looms

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A federal program designed to help businesses battered by the COVID-19 pandemic can now be used by commercial fishing operations to cover crew payroll, according to a rule published on Thursday by the Small Business Administration.

But applications must be submitted by Tuesday, June 30, to be eligible.

Alaska’s congressional delegation urged the Trump administration to adopt the change, according to a statement from the delegation. Their efforts included sending a letter seeking the fix to Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and Jovita Carranza, head of the Small Business Administration.

The Paycheck Protection Program has provided more than $500 billion to support businesses since it launched in April, including about $1.2 billion in Alaska. The loan is forgiven, meaning it doesn’t have to be repaid, if the money is properly spent on payroll and other basic costs such as rent, utilities or mortgage interest.

About $128 billion remained in the program as of June 20, according to the Small Business Administration.

Commercial fishing businesses have been unable to fully to take advantage of the loan, the delegation said. Crew members were considered self-employed independent contractors by the Internal Revenue Service, so operators could not account for their crew’s wages under the loan, according to the delegation’s statement.

“Enabling fishermen to secure the resources they need through PPP is not only fair, it means that these businesses so critical to Alaska have a fighting chance to stay afloat,” said Sen. Lisa Murkowski.

“Going forward, we will continue to work with the fishing industry to ensure that they can take full advantage of federal funds offered as a result of COVID-19 and ongoing stabilization efforts,” said Sen. Dan Sullivan.

“Unfortunately, federal bureaucracy has prevented our fishermen and processors from taking advantage of this resource,” said Rep. Don Young. “The fix announced today by Secretary Mnuchin and the Trump administration is welcome news for the countless Alaskans who depend on our waters for their livelihoods.”

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