Chair Cantwell Questions Department of Commerce Nominee on Census Delays and Fisheries Disaster Relief

Cantwell: “Let me be blunt: our fishermen are tired of waiting”

March 11, 2021

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA), Chair of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, questioned Don Graves, nominee to be Deputy Secretary of the U.S. Department of Commerce, on issues regarding Census data for the State of Washington and getting disaster relief funds for fishermen in the Pacific Northwest.

The Census Bureau announced last month that it is delaying its deadline for releasing data needed to draw Census maps, and the information that should be delivered in March will not be available until September 30th of this year. In the State of Washington, a bipartisan commission draws and approves the 10-year congressional and legislative redistricting plans and must do so by November 15th. This shortened window will lead to a truncated commission process and limit the community engagement that normally allows Washingtonians to have significant input in these maps.

Chair Cantwell addressed this issue in her questioning with Mr. Graves: “[The delay] will cause challenges for states as they try to meet their constitutional duties on redistricting,” Cantwell said. “So, some are already struggling with how to get meaningful public input with a truncated timeline. If confirmed, will you work to address the state issues and address the accuracy and timeliness of the Census?”

Graves responded, “I absolutely will work on that issue. I will also listen to the experts, the career experts at the department, and not allow politics to impact the accuracy and timeliness of the Census.”

In her questioning, Cantwell also highlighted the need for immediate fisheries disaster funding for WA state fishermen: There are several pending fishery disaster determinations for my state, such as Washington Puget Sound Coho salmon fishery, they've been pending for years. Senator Wicker and I are planning to reintroduce our bipartisan bill, which is about reform of the fisheries disaster process, including deadlines to ensure that fishery disasters are elevated and declared in a reasonable timeframe. Let me be blunt: our fishermen are tired of waiting, dealing with NOAA on these fisheries. It’s taken literally years to receive, you know, the disaster determination, let alone the funding. So we need a solution and we need reform. How will you help turn the tide on what seems like an endless cycle of disaster timing?”

Graves responded, “You and I have talked about this in the past and I appreciate how critical it is for the fisheries around the country, and especially for the fishing industry. Sustainably managed fisheries are critical to our economy, to our culture, to the fishing industry. I will absolutely work with the career staff at NOAA to make certain that we get these disaster dollars out the door and supporting those communities that have been most critically impacted by the pandemic, and by the challenge to our fisheries.”

Video of Chair Cantwell’s opening statement can be found HERE and audio is HERE.
Video of Cantwell’s Q&A with Mr. Graves can be found HERE and audio is HERE.
Transcripts can be found HERE.