Charity Should Begin at Home - Red Tide Redux
Benjamin Franklin, Poor Richard's Almanack, 1757
It is always interesting to see how an emergency affects an area or a community. Typically, it brings out the best and worst in each. But the disastrous Red Tide emergencies carried a far different message for Cape Cod – local agencies, charitable or not, are always able to respond to a crisis better than government. Always.
When the shellfish beds were shut down more than a month ago on June 3, at the beginning of the crucial summer season when the shellfishermen made the money that will feed them all winter, their first cries were to their Federal, State and local officials. With sincere hearts, all of them responded – we are looking into it, and will get back to you. This is cold comfort indeed for people about to miss a car payment. The National Ocean and Atmospheric Administration has giving over $30 million, $12 million to Woods Hole, for monitoring and tracking. This is valuable, and will help solve the problem – but again, cold comfort for those with no income.
This is not really a criticism of government; it is an expression of its reality. There were issues of jurisdiction between Federal and State, protocols that must be followed, and the rather interesting news that the owners of shellfish grants weren’t shellfishermen at all – they were farmers, under the purview of the Department of Agriculture. The Governor must ask for help, after being formally assured by his state agencies that the crisis is real and warrants action, and then the Congressman and the Department of Commerce must decide upon a course of action. It is all rather stately, and not made for an era with a 24 hour news cycle. Romney, Delahunt, even poor Michael Hickey – the state’s heretofore obscure shellfish expert catapulted into instant fame – did a yeoman’s job of cutting red tape and working together quickly, as did the Cape Delegation.
At the end of the day, what government had to offer was – loans. The Small Business Administration held workshops, but the fishermen were sensibly leery of taking out a loan that they had no idea if they could repay. The hoped-for unemployment – not usually available, as most of the shellfishermen do not pay into the Unemployment system – was never available as the federal government decided that the red tide did not present a crisis that would warrant a declaration of emergency. After all, the shellfish aren’t dead or gone – they will just be harvested in an economically disadvantageous time. There is much muttering that this is revenge on a Blue state, but it is worth noting that the last request for a red tide emergency was made in 2001 by Florida. It was denied. If the President’s brother couldn’t swing it, perhaps less blame should be cast on Mitt Romney.
Who DID help? Local agencies. The Lower/Outer Cape Coalition. The Interfaith Council. There was talk of the County helping, but they arrived late and short, like the rest of government. For the person in need on the ground, our local agencies were superb. And we need to support them.
Consider this an object lesson in government, whose singular response to the crisis was to attempt to make the Eastern Oyster an endangered species, and entirely wipe out the fishing of the Wellfleet Oyster. It never has been, and never should be, the many-breasted mother dispensing the milk of human kindness to all in need, no matter what some people try to make it into. With government, there’s always a catch. We’ll continue to ship our odd-27% off Cape in taxes, but we won’t see much of it back when we really need it. So, Cape Codders, dig deep and help those who helped. Because of the nature of red tide, depositing ‘cysts’ on the ocean floor which will bloom when exposed to fresh water (see my essay of June 12, please!) it is likely, almost probable, that this will happen again. While Woods Hole looks for a solution, let’s support our friends and neighbors.
Donations can be sent to:
Lower/Outer Cape Community Coalition
PO Box 797
Eastham, MA 02642
P.O. Box 828
Orleans, MA 02653