U.S. Rep. William Keating, who represents the 9th Congressional District in Massachusetts, joined some of his Capitol Hill colleagues today in urging the USDA to include U.S. seafood companies in a $9.5 billion program designed to help farmers affected by the coronavirus.

Keating, Rep. Seth Moulton, and Sens. Ed Markey and Elizabeth Warren wrote to Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue and said the federal government should take steps to buy American seafood through the CARES Act agricultural assistance program.

"The pandemic-driven closure of restaurants and other businesses has devastated the New England seafood industry, as about two-thirds of seafood is consumed in restaurants and outside the home. Fishermen and processors that supply restaurants and local food systems need support," the letter reads.

The fishing and seafood industries are essential drivers of the New England economy, the four wrote. In 2018, nearly $650 million of seafood landed in Massachusetts, and processing plants and wholesalers had almost 4,900 employees. With the loss of key customers, some processors in Massachusetts have already furloughed their staffs, their letter said.

Historically, the USDA has purchased pollock and salmon through its Section 32 program, which encourages domestic food consumption. CARES Act procurements would come through a different pipeline. The coronavirus relief act included $9.5 billion for affected agricultural producers.

The economic relief package did include $300 million in direct fisheries disaster assistance funding. It established SBA loans to help pay costs such as boat payments, and allowed self-employed fishermen to qualify for unemployment benefits. The USDA supports would provide another leg to the stool.

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