I am a commercial lobster boat captain, and I am also a member of the Maine House of Representatives, so there is a duality in how this pandemic is impacting me. As a commercial fisherman, I have seen a significant decline in the market for lobster and other types of seafood. The price fishermen are paid from the dock is much lower than normal. Cruise lines, restaurants, hotels, and casinos have closed which are all markets for Maine seafood. Without them up and running, there is very little market demand. For example, I am starting to go halibut fishing next week because the season just opened, but since there’s really no market for those fish, they are just gonna go in my freezer. The same thing is happening to many other fisheries across the nation and across the world.
As a legislator, I have been extremely busy trying to help people access sources that were authorized by congress as part of the Cares Act. I’ve spent most of my focus on unemployment, trying to get people access to unemployment benefits by filing through the Maine department of labor. Unfortunately, our computer system is difficult, communication is poor, we’re understaffed, so people are being underserved— it has created a lot of confusion as well as desperation. Many people have been out of work since the middle of March, and some of these claims are still stuck in limbo. People have gone weeks without receiving a paycheck because businesses have closed. In Maine, the pandemic unemployment assistance program did go into effect on May 1st, and that allows people who are self employed to apply for unemployment for the first time. These people are not a part of a demographic that is typically able to apply for unemployment— it has been a difficult transition.
I hope that this whole situation shows people the value of public health. It’s not just about you, and protecting you and your family, but also about protecting other people. It’s important for both you and other people to wear face masks. It’s important for you and other people to take the necessary safety precautions. It’s not just about ourselves, it’s about the rest of the community.
I hope that we get people the financial support that they need moving forward. Successfully addressing this crisis has two components: firstly, public health— which is absolutely paramount in order to keep ourselves and each other safe. The second part is making sure that people have the financial security they need to survive so that they don’t have to put themselves at risk. Those programs exist, so we need to connect people with that relief.
Written by: Siobhan Kelley