Farmworker Justice Update - 07/27/18

Farmworker Justice Update: 07/27/18

New Goodlatte Bill Introduced but Not Voted on As House Congressional Recess Begins

On July 18, Rep. Goodlatte (VA) introduced yet another version of his anti-worker, anti-immigrant and anti-family agricultural guestworker bill. The new bill, the “AG and Legal Workforce Act,” HR 6417, includes Rep. Goodlatte’s “H-2C” guestworker program, which would replace the current H-2A temporary agricultural guestworker visa program.  The legislation also includes mandatory E-verify.  House leadership had promised to bring standalone legislation on agricultural guestworkers to a House vote before August recess, but that did not happen. The House recess starts today and Members will not return until September.

It remains to be seen whether the bill will be taken up once the House reconvenes.  Reportedly, the bill did not have enough votes to pass, however Members state that they will be working to try to get additional support for the bill during the recess. One of the main reasons for the bill’s lack of support was the opposition to the bill expressed by some grower groups, including Western Growers and the California Farm Bureau FederationThese groups are concerned about the bill’s touch-back provision, which requires current undocumented agricultural workers to “self-deport” to their home countries before returning as guestworkers. Employers fear this provision, coupled with the implementation of mandatory E-verify, will only serve to push workers deeper into the shadows.

Farmworker Justice opposes the new Goodlatte bill, as do many immigrant rights organizations. To add your organization to a broad sign-on letter opposing the Goodlatte bill, as well as calling for a solution for Dreamers and TPS holders, please click here – the deadline for sign-on is Tuesday, July 31. Farmworker Justicewill continue to work to oppose Goodlatte’s one-sided and anti-worker proposal, while also monitoring potential regulatory changes to the H-2A program.

USDA Announces Guidelines for Including H-2A Workers in Farmworker Housing

On July 10, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced new internal guidance on the use of Section 514 farmworker housing. This new guidance is the result of an amendment included in the FY 2018 appropriations bill which extended use of the program to persons legally admitted to the United States and authorized to work in agriculture, expanding the definition of farm laborers eligible for the program. This change means that H-2A workers may now be eligible for this housing. Though further revisions will be made to the relevant regulations in order to conform to the statutory changes, USDA offices have been advised to include H-2A workers in the program.

The internal guidelines state that “under no circumstance” may any tenants in USDA-financed housing be displaced as a result of the change. However, the change is concerning because, as stated by Farmworker Justice President Bruce Goldstein in a Politico Agriculture update, the change is likely to encourage more employers to participate in the H-2A guest worker program and spread thin housing subsidies that can’t afford to be stretched. Any available subsidies to developfarmworker housing should be used to address the critical shortage of housing for U.S. farmworkers and their families.

House DHS FY 2019 Appropriations Bill Deeply Flawed

Newhouse H-2A Expansion Rider included in House DHS Appropriations bill

On July 25, Rep. Newhouse (WA) offered an amendment to the FY 2019 House Department of Homeland Security (DHS) appropriations bill which authorizes the expansion of H-2A to all agriculture, regardless of whether such work is seasonal. The amendment was adopted by voice vote.  The amendment is similar to one that he offered in FY 2018 which eliminated the seasonality requirement of the H-2A program. The FY 2018 Newhouse DHS amendment was ultimately not included in the final FY 2018 omnibus appropriations bill. Farmworker Justice opposes Newhouse’s year-round rider and will work to try to prevent it from being included in the final FY 2019 appropriations bill.

As detailed in a previous FJ update, Rep. Newhouse also introduced an amendment to the FY 2019 House Agriculture appropriations bill that would establish a new online platform for the processing and adjudication of H-2A petitions, to be run by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). This amendment was adopted and added to the House USDA appropriations bill. Farmworker Justice is also concerned about the potential inclusion of this amendment in the final FY 2019 appropriations bill, as the rider creates a great deal of uncertainty about what kind of oversight may be included should USDA run the application process.  USDA does not have the required expertise regarding administering guestworker programs and has historically viewed growers as their constituents instead of workers. 

Immigrant Rights Advocates Condemn FY 2019 DHS Appropriations Bill 

A coalition of immigrant rights groups, named the #DefundHate campaign, condemned the FY 2019 DHS appropriations bill that was voted on July 25. The bill includes $5 billion for construction of a border wall, as well as funding to expand detention centers and hire additional immigration officers. If included in the final FY 2019 appropriations bill, these funds would be used to further terrorize immigrant families, while lacking accountability for DHS’ fiscally irresponsible and morally reprehensible policies, including family separation. 

U.S. Government Misses Family Reunification Deadline

Pursuant to a court order, U.S. government officials had until yesterday (July 26) to reunite parents and children separated under the government's “zero-tolerance” family separation policy. Only about half of the approximately 2,500 children have been reunited with their parents. Hundreds of parents have already been deported without their children, making the prospect of future reunification uncertain. According to the ACLU, which is litigating the case, some parents were misled into agreeing to their deportation and/or relinquishing their rights to be reunited with their childrenImmigrantrefugee, and faith organizations have condemned the government’s actions and are continuing their work to provide guidance and relief to the affected families. 

FJ Opposes Nomination of Brett Kavanaugh for Supreme Court Justice

Farmworker Justice joined over 100 national organizations in a letter to Senators led by The Leadership Conference opposing the nomination of Brett Kavanaugh for the Supreme CourtKavanaugh was nominated by President Trump earlier this month. Of particular concern to farmworkers is Kavanaugh’s hostility to workers’ rights, anti-immigrant views, and undermining of environmental protections, each of which is detailed in the letter. A contentious confirmation process for Kavanaugh will likely take place in the U.S. Senate this fall. 

Milk with Dignity Campaign

 A recent Associated Press (AP) article highlights the success of the “Milk with Dignity” campaign. The agreement, led by farmworker advocate organization Migrant Justice, was signed by Ben & Jerry’s last fall. Under the agreement, Ben & Jerry’s pays a premium to farmers who agree to follow certain labor and housing standards. Approximately 70 farms employing 250 farmworkers are currently involved in the program, which is the first of its kind for the dairy industry.

Update on Farmworker Health and Safety

Farmworker Heat Stress Death in Nebraska

Farmworker Justice would like to extend its condolences to the family of Cruz Urias Beltran, a 52-year old farmworker who died earlier this month as a result of heat stroke. Urias Beltran went missing while detasseling corn in hundred-degree heat and was later found about 100 feet from the edge of a corn field. This recent tragedy once again highlights the need for protections to prevent heat stress, including the requirement for employers to provide access to drinking water, rest and shade when working in high temperatures, as well as adequate training for farmworkers to be able to identify and prevent heat stress.  

Public Citizen, FJ and Others Petition for Federal Heat Stress Standard

On July 17, Public Citizen, along with a coalition of over 200 individuals and groups including Farmworker Justice, filed a petition to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) asking for a federal standard to protect workers from heat stress. The danger of heat stress is particularly prevalent for farmworkers and will likely continue to grow as climate change impacts daily temperatures. The petition calls for a standard modeled after criteria set by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH).

Grain Elevator Explosion Will Not Be Investigated by OSHA Because of Small Farm Exemption

OSHA will not be investigating a recent grain elevator explosion that resulted in the death of a worker. U.S. law exempts farms with fewer than 11 non-family employees from OSHA’s purview, so the farm where the incident occurred does not qualify. The worker, Maurice Kellogg, suffered severe burns when the grain elevator exploded on May 29 and later died of his injuries. He was 55 years old and had been an agricultural worker for over 30 years. Farmworker Justice extends its condolences to his family. The exact cause of the explosion remains unknown.

FJ Developing Spanish Language Grain Safety Materials

Service providers have seen an increase over the last few years of Spanish-speaking workers on agricultural entities that produce, transport and handle grain. Currently, very few materials exist in Spanish to address grain safety protocol among grain workers. Grain handling incidents often result from improper interactions with grain processing and transporting equipment, improperly cleaned work areas, or entering untrained into grain bins and storage areas. Migratory or guest workers may be less likely to ask for the necessary training or protective equipment to complete these dangerous tasks. The changing nature of work on farms where grain is handled, including work on smaller OSHA-exempt farms, may trend towards more workers with limited English proficiency becoming involved in grain handling activities. Farmworker Justice and Indiana Legal Services have partnered to produce a series of Spanish language materials on grain handling safety. If you are interested in learning more about these materials, please contact FJ’s Health and Safety Project Coordinator, Madeline Ramey, at [email protected].

Pesticide Executive Nominated for Top USDA Post

President Trump recently nominated Scott Hutchins, a former pesticide executive for Dow Chemical, for the post of Under Secretary of Agriculture for Research, Education and Economics, which is the chief scientist position at the USDA. If approved by the Senate, Hutchins would be the third Dow Chemical executive to be assigned to a USDA post. Dow Chemical likely played a significant role in former EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt’s decision to reverse plans to ban the toxic pesticide chlorpyrifos. This latest nomination highlights the power of industrial agricultural interests in the current Administration, with negative impacts for both farmworkers and the environment. 

EPA Hearing on Use of Science in Regulations

Virginia Ruiz, FJ’s Director of Occupational and Environmental Health, recently testified before the EPA on a proposed rule that would weaken the role of science in developing EPA policy. The proposed rule, entitled “Strengthening Transparency in Regulatory Science,” would require revealing private health data in public health scientific studies, making it less likely that the public would participate in these essential studies. Farmworker Justice opposes the rule because it would deter farmworkers from participating in scientific studies, and it would prohibit EPA from considering credible scientific evidence about the dangers farmworkers face, including exposure to pesticides. The public comment period for the rule ends on August 16, 2018.

“Skimpy Health Plans” and Farmworkers

The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP) recently published a paper entitled “Expanding Skimpy Health Plans is the Wrong Solution for Uninsured Farmers and Farm Workers.” The paper details the negative impact association health plans and short term health plans will have on health insurance and health care access for farmworkers and farmers. At the state and federal level, policies have been proposed (and in some cases enacted) to expand access to “skimpy health plans” that are exempt from many of the ACA’s consumer protections. Farmers are often cited as the beneficiaries of these plans; in Iowa and North Carolina, expansion of skimpy plans is supported by the state Farm Bureaus. However, due to their low incomes, farmworkers may be eligible for better, more affordable coverage through the ACA’s marketplace or Medicaid. Skimpy plans, though they may seem affordable for low-income farmers and farmworkers, often have very high deductibles and limits on benefits. CBPP cites data from the 2016 American Community Survey and the 2014 National Agricultural Workers Survey. More information and analysis about association and short-term health plans can be found on the CBPP website

Cuts to Navigator Funding

On July 10, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) announced that they were cutting funding for navigators for the 2019 plan year from $36 million last year to $10 million. This represents a severe reduction in Navigator funding of nearly 90% from 2016 funding levels. CMS justified this funding reduction by stating that navigators only accounted for 1% of enrollees in the marketplace. However, as outlined in a Kaiser Family Foundation data note published July 17, the data cited by CMS likely underestimates the number of navigator-assisted enrollments. Further, the role of navigators is not limited to enrollment. Navigators also provide education to consumers, answer questions about health insurance, and support consumers post-enrollment. In farmworker communities, navigators play a crucial role to educate and enroll workers in health insurance. Awareness about the marketplaces remains low. In addition, recent changes in the ACA, specifically the elimination of the mandate penalty in 2019, create additional confusion. This reduction in funding further weakens the ACA, reversing any gains in health insurance coverage experienced by farmworker communities.