MIL-OSI USA: Salinas, Lofgren, Bennet, Padilla Introduce Bill to Provide Disaster Relief for Farmworkers

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Source: United States House of Representatives – Representative Andrea Salinas (OR-06)

Washington, DC Today, U.S. Representatives Andrea Salinas (OR-06), the daughter of a former farmworker and a leader in the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, and Zoe Lofgren (CA-18), along with U.S. Senators Michael Bennet (D-CO) and Alex Padilla (D-CA), introduced the Disaster Relief for Farm Workers Act. This legislation would provide compensation for farmworkers who lose out on wages due to extreme weather, public health emergencies, and other disasters beyond their control.

“As the daughter of a former farmworker, I am proud to introduce this bill to deliver much-needed disaster relief for the hardworking men and women who grow and harvest our food,” said Rep. Salinas. “Climate change is only getting worse, and unexpected disasters can strike at any time. Yet despite their critical importance to our food system and economy, America’s farmworkers currently do not receive direct federal support when they are forced to miss out on work and lose wages as a result. This legislation would finally right that wrong and ensure that, rain or shine, our farmworkers and their families can continue to pay the bills and put food on the table.”

“When extreme weather occurs, farmworkers across the United States continue to help feed the nation. And yet, these essential workers and their families face great uncertainty when unexpected disasters cause them to lose work and income. In my congressional district, after severe flooding in early 2023, hundreds of farmworkers in the Pajaro community faced displacement and lost wages. They and all farmworkers deserve better. That’s why I’m proud to be co-leading the Disaster Relief for Farm Workers Act with Rep. Salinas and Sens. Padilla and Bennet. Our bill ensures America’s indispensable farmworkers can receive disaster relief funding they need and have earned,” said Rep. Lofgren.

“Agriculture is the backbone of Colorado’s economy and central to our Western way of life, but as climate-fueled disasters become increasingly common, our state’s farm workers are paying the price,” said Sen. Bennet. “The people that grow America’s fruits, vegetables, and other crops deserve assistance – especially after emergencies like drought, wildfires, or other natural disasters. This legislation recognizes their crucial role in our economy.”

“California’s farm workers labor under extreme conditions to help put food on the table for hundreds of millions of Americans,” said Sen. Padilla. “But as farm workers in Pajaro learned last year after extreme flooding, and those across the country know too well, natural disasters can devastate agricultural communities. We must protect the beating heart of our nation’s food supply by providing critical emergency assistance to these essential workers.”

Oregon is home to over 100,000 farmworkers, many of whom live and work in the Willamette Valley and power the state’s $42 billion agriculture economy. Yet despite their importance to our food systems, the average farmworker family in Oregon earns less than $25,000 per year. Ninety-six percent reported living in overcrowded housing and about thirty percent are living below the poverty line. When farmworkers cannot work due to extreme weather or other unexpected disasters, they can lose wages and even their jobs—pushing them deeper into housing and food insecurity.

The Disaster Relief for Farm Workers Act would address this problem by providing direct relief funding for farmworkers. Specifically, this bill would:

  • Make grants available to eligible farmworker organizations to provide emergency relief to farm workers affected by a disaster.
  • Ensure USDA develops and executes a promotional plan prior to and throughout the distribution of the relief grants to increase awareness of the assistance available.
  • Require USDA to work with eligible farmworker organizations.
  • Provide definitions for a covered disaster, eligible farmworker organization, and migrant or seasonal farmworker.
  • Amend Section 2281 of the Food, Agriculture, Conservation, and Trade Act of 1990 to allow for emergency assistance for farmworkers.

The legislation is endorsed by the following organizations, in alphabetical order: Advocates for Basic Legal Equality, Alianza Nacional de Capesinas, Inc., Alianza Poder, Association of Farmworker Opportunity Programs (AFOP), Bienestar, California Rural Legal Assistance Foundation, Campesinos Sin Fronteras, CIERTO, Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights (CHIRLA), Columbia Legal Services, Earthjustice, Farmworker Housing Development Corporation (FHDC), Farmworker Justice, Farm Worker Ministry Northwest, Farmworker and Landscaper Advocacy Project (FLAP), Food Empowerment Project, Hispanic Affairs Project, Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights, Labor Council for Latin American Advancement, Mano a Mano, Migrant Clinicians Network, National Employment Law Project, National Farm Worker Ministry, Restaurant Opportunities Centers United (ROC UNITED), Pineros y Campesinos Unidos del Noroeste (PCUN), Sisters of Charity of Nazareth Congregational Leadership, Student Action with Farmworkers, The Foundation for Farmworkers, The Guatemalan Maya Center, TODEC Legal Center, Unidos Yamhill County, United Farm Workers, UFW Foundation, United Migrant Opportunity Services, and Voces Unidas de las Montañas.

“Farm workers have long been excluded from federal disaster relief programs, even as they have been disproportionately impacted by extreme weather such as fires, flooding, and other natural disasters,” said UFW President Teresa Romero. “The same way the federal government provides support to farm owners who lose crops, the federal government should provide support to farm workers who lose work. The Disaster Relief for Farm Workers Act will ensure that farm workers and their families can put food on the table when they are unable to work due to conditions beyond their control. We are grateful to Congresswoman Salinas for her leadership on behalf of America’s farm workers.”

“From rising temperatures to wildfires to flooding conditions, farm worker communities face unprecedented consequences due to climate change yet do not receive any federal relief for climate change-related disasters,” said Erica Lomeli Corcoran, Interim Chief Executive Officer of the UFW Foundation. “This is why the UFW Foundation is supporting the introduction of the Disaster Relief for Farm Workers Act. This legislation would provide funds to aid farm workers who are directly impacted by climate disasters, ensuring that they do not lose their livelihood due to conditions beyond their control. We saw that farm workers are incredibly essential to this country’s health and wellbeing during the COVID pandemic. It’s time to offer them protections when facing future pandemics and natural disasters.”

“This legislation is a crucial step towards safeguarding the wellbeing of our farm workers, who are the backbone of our food system. We support the amendment recommendation making grants available to eligible farm worker organizations to ensure that those most affected by disasters receive the emergency relief they desperately need. We commend the bill’s requirement for the USDA to collaborate with these organizations and execute a comprehensive promotional plan. This will be vital in raising awareness about the available assistance and ensuring it reaches those who need it most. Furthermore, the bill’s clear definitions for covered disasters, eligible farm worker organizations, and migrant or seasonal farm workers provide the necessary framework for effective and equitable implementation. Amending Section 2281 of the Food, Agriculture, Conservation, and Trade Act of 1990 to include emergency assistance for farm workers recognizes the unique challenges they face and reinforces our commitment to their support and resilience,” said Reyna Lopez, Executive Director of Pineros y Campesinos Unidos del Noroeste (PCUN). 

Click here for bill text and here for a one-page summary.