Bennet releases farm labor bill, but Farm Bureau still opposed
|Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colo., last week released a Senate version of a bill to ease immigration for farm laborers, but prospects for the bill to pass and be combined with the House-passed Farm Worker Modernization Act are dim.|
Bennet was working with Sen. Mike Crapo, R-Idaho, to develop bipartisan support for the bill, but Crapo chose not to cosponsor the bill Bennet released.
Bennet announced the bill at a news conference at which he was surrounded by a group of bipartisan members of the House who support the bill and by farm and farm worker leaders. The news conference was livestreamed and is posted online at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_4yEuhn6jGs.
Bennet said his Affordable and Secure Food Act would:
▪ Establish a program for agriculture workers, along with their spouses and minor children, to earn legal status. Farm workers in the program may earn a path to a green card after 10 years of agriculture work.
▪ Reform the H-2A Temporary Agricultural Worker program by providing H-2A visas for year-round jobs for the first time, modernizing the application process, creating more wage certainty, and ensuring critical protections for H-2A farm workers.
▪ Establish a mandatory, nationwide electronic verification system for all agricultural employment, with high standards for privacy and accuracy.
▪ Lower the cost of and increase access to farm workers and rural housing.
There are some differences between the Senate bill and the House-passed bill, but the American Farm Bureau Federation said it is opposed to the Senate bill as well as the House bill even though many other farm groups support both efforts.
|In an email, Sam Kieffer, vice president for public policy at Farm Bureau said, “We appreciate Sen. Bennet for his efforts to find solutions to the labor challenges facing America’s farmers. Sen. Bennet’s proposal is an improvement over the House-passed Farm Workforce Modernization Act, but we need a solution that meets today’s farm and ranch demands from day one.”|
“For that reason, AFBF does not support the proposal and seeks additional improvements,” Kieffer said.
“It’s problematic that the proposal codifies the flawed methodology of the Department of Labor’s farm labor survey, which has led to wild swings in wage rates that are beyond the reach of many farmers. Farmers and their employees need a system that provides long-term stability. We will continue to work with lawmakers to find solutions that meet the needs of American agriculture and ensure an abundant food supply for families in the U.S. and abroad.”
|But Chuck Conner, president and CEO of the National Council of Farmer Cooperatives, said that senators “can’t call yourself a friend of the American farmer” if they don’t address the farm labor issue.”|
“If the Senate does not pass the bill before the end of the year, “ag labor reform will be off the table for years to come while the labor crisis and its devastating impact on farmers continues,” NCFC added.
|International Fresh Produce Association Chief Policy Officer Robert Guenther said, “Crippling labor shortages have existed for years, so the fresh produce industry implores Congress to finally act on the most important thing that can be done to stabilize the agricultural workforce, ease the strain on the supply chain and lower the cost to consumers.”|
“Congress must not kick the can down the road again or offer hollow promises of solving this problem for next year. Now is the time.”
|Jim Bair, president and CEO of the U.S. Apple Association, noted that “every apple has to be handpicked,” and said farmers are leaving apples on the trees because there is no one to pick them.|
Arturo Rodriguez, president emeritus of the United Farm Workers, pointed out that farm workers had worked during the pandemic to provide food to the American people.
Teresa Romero, the current president of the UFW, said, “If you work to feed America you deserve the right to stay in America.”
Ag & Politics