Latest News

Below are our latest news on important news and events relating to policy changes and issues affecting farmworkers and their families.

July 19, 2017

Regarding today’s hearing of the House Judiciary immigration subcommittee titled “Agricultural Guestworkers: Meeting the Growing Needs of American Farmers,” Farmworker Justice President Bruce Goldstein stated:   “The situation facing our nation’s farmworkers and food system is dire.  At least half and likely more of our nation’s farmworkers are undocumented.  These farmworkers are living and working in fear due to the Administration’s criminalization of immigrants and the increasing pace of indiscriminate arrests and deportations of immigrants. The most important step to take now is to pass legislation that gives current undocumented farmworkers and their family members the opportunity to obtain immigration status and eventual U.S. citizenship.”

This hearing is an opportunity to move forward a positive and workable solution in Congress that will meet the needs of workers, agricultural employers, and our food system. The Agricultural Worker Program Act, which was introduced in Congress by Rep. Gutierrrez and Sen. Feinstein, and cosponsors, would recognize the hard work and contributions of experienced farmworkers by providing them an opportunity to earn lawful permanent residency through continued agricultural work. This bill would benefit America by ensuring farmworkers the ability to continue working and contributing to the communities in which they have long been members; providing a stable workforce for employers; and helping to ensure a secure, safe and responsible food system for consumers.

The hearing is focused on agricultural “guestworkers.”  We know from our own history and world-wide experiences that a guestworker system is not an appropriate solution to solve the current problems.  We are already seeing unprecedented expansion in the H-2A program; there is no cap on the number of H-2A visas per year and many more employers are applying.  We are deeply concerned about this expansion: both for our domestic labor force which may be losing access to needed farm jobs, and for H-2A workers, who are vulnerable to exploitation due to their dependent status on their employer and other structural program flaws. America is a nation of immigrants, not guestworkers.  We must respect the humanity of farmworkers and treat them as we would treat others who contribute to our nation’s success, offering them the opportunity to be permanent members of our society and the communities they help build.

July 18, 2017

The House Appropriations Committee, while voting on the spending bill for the Department of Homeland Security today, suddenly added a fundamental, substantive change to the H-2A temporary foreign agricultural worker program.  The amendment would require the U.S. government to approve employers’ applications for permission to hire agricultural guestworkers for jobs that are year-round; H-2A visas could be issued without regard to whether the jobs are temporary or seasonal.  The effort to change the scope of the H-2A program through an amendment on the appropriations bill was led by Rep. Newhouse (R-WA), with the support of Representatives Cuellar (D-TX) and Aguilar (D-CA).

               

Farmworker Justice strongly opposes this proposed change and the method by which it was adopted.  Bruce Goldstein, President of Farmworker Justice, said: “Expanding the H-2A program to year-round jobs would contravene the purpose of the program and further distort the agricultural labor market.  The H-2A program is premised on the idea that it may be difficult to find U.S. workers for seasonal farm jobs because they yield lower annual incomes than year-round jobs. That same logic does not apply to year-round employment. Agricultural employers with year-round jobs should do what any other employer must do to attract and retain workers: improve wages and working conditions.”

 

This amendment does nothing to fix the H-2A program.  The H-2A program is rife with abuses resulting from unscrupulous employers that take advantage of the vulnerable guestworkers, displacing U.S. workers and undermining U.S. workers’ labor standards.  Moreover, expanding the H-2A program to include year-round jobs does nothing to address the roughly one million current farmworkers who are undocumented and face the threat of detection and deportation.  It makes little sense to allow employers to hire H-2A workers to displace their current undocumented farmworkers. 

 

Farmworker Justice calls on Congress to prevent this amendment from passing and to pass legislation granting immigration status and a path to citizenship for undocumented workers and their family members. The solution to the agricultural industry’s reliance on immigrant workers must be to respect the contributions and humanity of those workers by passing comprehensive immigration reform. The Agricultural Worker Program Act would do that by providing an opportunity to move forward a positive and workable solution in Congress that will meet the needs of workers, agricultural employers, and our food system.

July 14, 2017

The Better Care Reconciliation Act of 2017 (BCRA), first released on June 22 and revised on July 13, would replace and repeal key provisions of the Affordable Care Act.  Similar to the House version, the American Health Care Act (AHCA), passed on May 4, 2017, the proposed Senate bill will reduce access to comprehensive health insurance for farmworkers and their families.

Our analysis of the American Health Care Act can be found here. 

How is the Senate Bill (BCRA) different from the House Bill (AHCA)?

While there are many similarities between the Senate and House bills, there are important differences.  Some of these differences include:

  • Immigrant eligibility for marketplace health insurance – AHCA does not change current eligibility to purchase health insurance in the marketplace. BCRA restricts marketplace eligibility to those who meet the “qualified alien” definition under section 431 of the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act (PRWORA).
  • Income eligibility for tax credits – Tax credits under AHCA would be based primarily on age, rather than a consumer’s Federal Poverty Level (FPL). BCRA would retain ACA’s tax credit eligibility based on age and FPL.
  • Preexisting conditions and continuous coverage – Under AHCA, consumers with a break in coverage of more than 63 days would be penalized with a 30% increase in their premiums. These consumers would also be subject to higher premiums due to any preexisting conditions. The BCRA’s continuous coverage provision would impose a 6-month waiting period for consumers who enroll in health insurance after a break in coverage longer than 63 days.

Further analysis of the House bill and the proposed Senate bill can be found here on the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities website.

How would the Senate draft reduce farmworker access to health insurance?

Change in Immigrant Eligibility for Marketplace Health Insurance and Tax Credits: Anyone who is lawfully present in the United States is currently eligible to purchase health insurance in the marketplace and qualifies for tax credits to lower the cost of health insurance. H-2A workers have gained the most from this expansion in immigrant eligibility under the ACA. The BCRA would restrict marketplace and tax credit eligibility to U.S. Citizens, nationals, and “qualified” immigrants, as defined by section 431 of the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act (PRWORA).

Repeal of Employer Mandate : The BCRA, like AHCA, will repeal the employer mandate. While there are exceptions, large agricultural employers are generally liable under the employer mandate. As a result, farmworkers and their families have had new opportunities for health insurance coverage. Repealing the employer mandate will mean that fewer workers will have access to employer-provided health insurance and some may lose current coverage in future years.

Repeal of ACA’s Cost-Sharing Subsidies: Under the ACA, cost-sharing subsidies are provided to insurers to help some of their ACA customers cover deductibles and copayments. Both AHCA and the BCRA end these subsidies in 2020. The cost-sharing subsidies are crucial to ensure that health insurance is not only affordable but also functional. Cost is a major barrier to care for many farmworkers and their families. Lower co-pays and deductibles encourage utilization of health care services. Repeal of the cost-sharing subsidies will render health insurance essentially ineffective.

Waiver of Essential Health Benefits Requirement: While the BCRA keeps the ACA’s pre-existing condition requirements, it allows states to waive the ACA’s Essential Health Benefits. Essential Health Benefits coverage includes prescriptions, behavioral health, and hospital visits. Without the Essential Health Benefits requirements, workers may be subjected to more expensive but less comprehensive health insurance.

Change in Income Eligibility for Tax Credits: Farmworkers rely on tax credits to make health insurance in the marketplace affordable. The BCRA will maintain tax credit eligibility based on a consumer’s federal poverty level (FPL). However, the tax credit would be less generous than tax credits under the ACA and would only be available for those up to 350% FPL.

Remove Cap on Repayment of Tax Credits: Under the ACA, a person’s liability to repay tax credits is capped at a certain amount, depending on their FPL and filing status. The BCRA removes these caps. Workers may inadvertently receive the wrong amount in tax credits due to miscalculations of their income. Fluctuations in farmworker income are fairly common due to the seasonal nature of agricultural work. They may not necessarily report these changes in income to the marketplace, resulting in a higher tax credit than what they may be eligible.  Under the BCRA, workers would be liable for the entire amount they owe, which could equal thousands of dollars.\

End of Medicaid Expansion and Restructuring of the Medicaid Program: The BCRA will not only end Medicaid expansion but will also convert Medicaid into a per-capita cap or block grant system. Under BCRA, federal payments to states that expanded their programs to low-income adults would be rolled back starting in 2021. States would be given the option of receiving a block grant from the federal government or a set payment based on the number and type of enrollees. Like AHCA, states would be able to impose work requirements on able-bodied adults as a condition for receiving benefits.

Though few adult farmworkers qualify for Medicaid, many farmworker children benefit from Medicaid/CHIP. The amount states receive from a per-capita cap or block grant would result in a substantial reduction from current federal funding levels. States could significantly cut the Medicaid benefits they offer to farmworker children and adults.

Farmworkers Need Greater, Not Reduced Access to Healthcare

Farmworkers face numerous health risks yet have few options for health insurance. Under the ACA, farmworkers and their families have made important gains in health insurance coverage. The Senate bill will undo these gains. Farmworkers need more options for health insurance coverage, not fewer. Farmworker Justice opposes any bill that will result in reduced access to health insurance and health care for farmworkers and other low-income, rural Americans.