US Senate News:
Source: United States Senator for North Carolina Thom Tillis
WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, U.S. Senators Thom Tillis (R-NC), John Boozman (R-AR), John Cornyn (R-TX), and Lindsey Graham (R-SC) introduced legislation to implement a temporary stay on the H-2A Adverse Effect Wage Rate (AEWR) to combat rising food prices across the nation. The Keep Food Local & Affordable Act of 2021 would keep required wage rates at 2021 rates in states already experiencing low availability of domestic workers, as demonstrated through an unemployment rate of no more than 5 percent. It would also allow Governors of states with demonstrated food price increases of more than 3 percent in the past 12 months to request their state’s wage rate stay at its 2021 rate.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, food prices increased 4.6 percent from September 2020 to September 2021, impacting the ability of Americans, particularly low to moderate income earners, to putaffordable food on the table. Due to widespread inflation, the 2022 AEWR is expected to rise significantly, increasing U.S. food production costs. The Keep Food Local & Affordable Act of 2021 would implement a temporary stay on AEWR increases, helping stabilize U.S. food prices and ensure food production stays in the U.S.
“Farmers in North Carolina and across the country are facing unprecedented challenges, led by the crippling labor shortage and inflation crisis. If farmers’ labor costs continue to skyrocket, Americans will suffer from even higher food prices and empty shelves at the grocery store, hurting low-income families the most,” said Senator Tillis. “The H-2A visa program has long been a last-resort option for our farmers to fill gaps and provide assistance; however, an unsustainable increase in the wage rate would only exacerbate the current national labor crisis. While broader program reforms are needed, this necessary legislation will give temporary relief to farmers’ rapidly rising input costs while maintaining worker pay and protections and allow U.S. farmers to continue feeding American families.”
“Democrats continue to ignore the triple threat to our economy, and instead, solely focus on the president’s agenda. Their reckless spending will only exacerbate the issues farmers and ranchers are facing trying to find workers, manage supply chain disruptions and deal with skyrocketing inflation. This bill will at least help producers on the labor front by keeping an important option on the table for those who cannot find help in town. It is necessary because Democrats continue to ignore that more must be done to encourage people to get back to work. If Congress trained its attention there, instead of the president’s cradle-to-grave agenda, we could truly help alleviate the labor crisis our farmers and ranchers are facing,” said Senator Boozman.
“Rapid increases in the Adverse Effect Wage Rate have caused hardship for agricultural producers in recent years, and Texans unfortunately have been feeling the squeeze,” said Senator Cornyn. “That’s why I’m proud to join Senator Tillis in introducing this bill, which will help provide some financial relief to Texas farmers and ranchers by freezing growth of the AEWR through the end of next year.”
“When American farm workers are unavailable, this program allows farmers to bring in workers to help meet their needs,” said Senator Graham. “As we go into the holiday season we need to understand that the food supply chain is very much at risk. We are already seeing higher prices and shortages of products on store shelves. At a time of dramatic supply chain disruptions, the H-2A visa program is needed now more than ever. I support this legislation and the needed reforms we are seeking to make.”
“AFBF appreciates the leadership of Sen. Tillis to address concerns with the Adverse Effect Wage Rate (AEWR) for the H-2A program,” said Zippy Duvall, President of the American Farm Bureau Federation. “The Keep Food Local and Affordable Act is a targeted response to immediate concerns regarding inflation and rising food costs. It provides temporary AEWR relief to farmers while Congress continues to work toward a long-term solution to agriculture’s workforce shortage.”
“North Carolina Farm Bureau thanks Sen. Tillis for his tireless work to address the labor needs of North Carolina’s farmers,” said Shawn Harding, President of the North Carolina Farm Bureau. “The Keep Food Local and Affordable Act is a reasoned approach to reducing one of agriculture’s most pressing concerns. Providing short-term Adverse Effect Wage Rate relief, based on Unemployment Rate and Food Price Index data, is a positive stop-gap until long-term agricultural labor reform is a reality.”
“The 4.6% increase in food prices this past year has impacted many Americans’ ability to put affordable food on their tables. Added costs to growers through the Adverse Effect Wage Rate would mean added costs to consumers and no one can afford that,” said Michelle Grainger, Executive Director of the North Carolina SweetPotato Commission. “Sweetpotatoes are a shelf-stable, healthy superfood of which the state of North Carolina alone produces more than 65% of the nation’s crop. The risk of negatively impacting the supply of such a versatile, affordable and nutritionally valuable food would be detrimental to the quality in nutrition of American families.”
“The Keep Food Local & Affordable Act will provide a reasonable and logical market-based limit to the explosive wage rate increase farmers have endured in recent years under the current H-2A program wage structure,” said James T. Hill, III, Executive Director of the North Carolina’s Grower’s Association.“This narrowly tailored but significant policy adjustment will improve farmers confidence they will have access to the vital labor they need to continue producing the nation’s food supply without hurting farmworkers.”
The bill is also supported by USA Farmers and the NC Chamber of Commerce.
Labor instability and cost is the number one concern of farmers across the country. The H-2A visa program is supposed to be a way to help fill the gaps when farmers cannot find local legal labor. However, it is often used as a last resort by farmers due to program expenses, including the Adverse Effect Wage Rate (AEWR), as an impediment to using the visa program.
The AEWR informs the rate of pay received by temporary agricultural workers through the H-2A program. The rate is published annually in December by U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) using data collected by USDA via survey to inform the rates it publishes.
Farmers already pay well over minimum wage. For 2021, the average national AEWR farmers must pay H-2A workers is $14.62 and ranges from $11.81 to $16.34. Over the past 5 years the national average AEWR has increased by 20 percent.
Read text of the bill here.