Health & Occupational Safety

Farmworker Justice Update - 01/12/18

Farmworker Justice Update: 01/12/18

Administration’s Focus on Agriculture and Rural Issues Ignores Farmworkers

On January 8, U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Secretary Sonny Perdue publicly released a report that had earlier been given to President Trump by the Interagency Task Force on Agriculture and Rural Prosperity. The publication of the report was timed to coincide with President Trump’s recent appearance at the American Farm Bureau Federation conference. The Task Force was created in response to an April 2017 Executive Order, with the objective of developing proposals for revitalizing rural America. The report is fundamentally flawed however, as it ignores the interests and needs of farmworkers and their families. Though it notes the agricultural sector’s reliance on immigrant labor, it does not address the need for a path to citizenship for agricultural workers, instead stating that the Administration may pursue regulatory reforms to the H-2A agricultural visa program. Farmworker Justice issued a statement regarding the report.

Agricultural Employers Increasingly Turning to Guestworkers for Labor

Though the President notably did not mention agricultural labor during his speech at the American Farm Bureau Federation conference in Tennessee, he did discuss the issue informally with some of the conference participants. As noted in a recent Los Angeles Times article, use of the H-2A agricultural guestworker program has continued to increase exponentially. Many employers are lobbying for changes to the program and/or the creation of a new guestworker program to strip away labor protections and reduce government oversight.

Goodlatte’s New Immigration Proposal Includes Agricultural Guestworker Bill

On January 10, Rep. Bob Goodlatte, Chair of the House Judiciary Committee, along with Representatives McCaul, Labrador and McSally, released a hard-line anti-immigration proposal entitled the “Securing America’s Future Act.”  The bill incorporates the provisions of Rep. Goodlatte’s anti-immigrant, anti-worker Agricultural Guestworker Act (AGA), which he introduced in October 2017. As noted by Farmworker Justice’s Adrienne DerVartanian in an interview in Civil Eats, the AGA “would create a temporary workforce with no ability to become legal immigrants, who are completely dependent on their employers, and who have extremely minimal protection.” We previously summarized the AGA’s proposal for a terribly exploitative new H-2C agricultural guestworker program.

Rep. Goodlatte’s proposal also includes other anti-immigrant policies, including building a costly border wall, increasing arrests and deportations of immigrants, attacking sanctuary cities, and eliminating existing opportunities for family reunification as well as the diversity visa program. With this proposal, Rep. Goodlatte, a long-time immigration restrictionist, is trying to push his extreme anti-immigrant agenda and obstruct a much-needed solution for Dreamers. Farmworker Justice’s statement opposing Rep. Goodlattes’s Securing America’s Future Act is available here.

Dreamers’ Fate Continues to Hang in the Balance amidst Congressional Negotiations

On January 9, President Trump met with multiple Congressional leaders from both parties to discuss a possible solution to his rescission of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. Unfortunately, the meeting did not provide clarity on what a potential DACA compromise might be, or when it might be reached. Two days later, Congressional leaders met with Trump to present a bipartisan compromise on DACA and other issues of concern to the President, who reportedly questioned why the United States should allow immigrants from “shit-hole” countries, including Haiti, as contrasted with Norway. This Vox article provides a summary of these recent immigration negotiations, which are still unfolding.

Congress faces a January 19 deadline to pass a budget resolution, as the current continuing budget resolution, which was approved at the end of last year, expires on that date.  The official rescission of DACA occurs on March 5, when thousands of Dreamers will lose their status, but thousands of Dreamers already have lost their status, with an average of 122 Dreamers losing their status every day.  A clean Dream Act needs to be included as part of any new budget package. Furthermore, the fate of Dreamers should not be exploited in order to enact anti-immigration measures that will negatively impact Dreamers’ own families and communities.

Judge Temporarily Blocks DACA Termination

On January 9, a federal judge issued an order blocking the Trump Administration’s termination of the DACA program. The preliminary injunction was the result of an ongoing lawsuit regarding DACA, Regents v. DHS, and requires the government to continue to accept and process DACA renewal applications. However, by definition, a preliminary injunction is not a permanent solution, and the Administration will likely appeal the decision. Therefore, this litigation development should not distract from the urgency of Congressional action regarding DACA, as this is the only way to provide a permanent solution for Dreamers.

DHS Terminates El Salvador TPS Designation

In yet another devastating blow to our country’s immigrant community, on January 8 the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) announced the termination of the Temporary Protected Status (TPS) designation for El Salvador within an 18 month period (by September 9, 2019). DHS terminated the TPS designations of three other countries (Nicaragua, Haiti and Sudan) last year, and the fate of the TPS designation for Honduras currently remains uncertain. El Salvador has the largest number of TPS recipients, with over 200,000 individuals, as well as over 190,000 U.S. citizen children with at least one parent who is a TPS recipient. This ill-advised decision will have significant adverse social and economic impacts, including in the nation’s capital, where about 40,000 Salvadoran immigrants hold TPS. Farmworker Justice participated in a rally outside the White House to protest the decision. Read Farmworker Justice’s statement on the announcement here.

Update on Farmworker Health and Safety

EPA Seeks to Undo Crucial Worker Protections Regarding Pesticides

As detailed in a recent Huffington Post article, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is preparing to roll back crucial worker protections regarding pesticides. The EPA has announced that it will soon begin a new rule-making process on certain provisions of the Worker Protection Standard (WPS) and Certified Pesticide Applicator (CPA) rules, both of which were recently updated after a decades-long, multi-stakeholder process. The key provisions that are now under threat, and which Farmworker Justice and other worker groups have long advocated for, include a minimum age of 18 for handling pesticides, the right to a representative that can access pesticide exposure information and the establishment of a pesticide application exclusion zone to prevent exposure to bystanders.

The EPA’s decision to reverse course on these worker protections is likely a response to lobbying from the American Farm Bureau, the leading industry group for growers, which has been pushing for a roll back of these protections for years. At its January 9 meeting, the Farm Bureau stated that it was hopeful that these worker protections could be repealed under the current Administration.  These and other protections are necessary to prevent and respond to pesticide exposures among farmworkers and their children because they can cause a range of serious injuries and illnesses, including birth defects, cancer, infertility and neurological deficits.
 

Farmworker Justice Update - 12/22/17

Farmworker Justice Update: 12/22/17

 

Christmas Tree Cutters Continue Battle to Improve Working Conditions  

 

        As many celebrate the season by purchasing and decorating a Christmas tree, it is important to think about the working conditions of those who plant and harvest these trees. A recent lawsuit in North Carolina, covered by the Guardian, highlights some of the abuses these workers endure. Employees at Hart-T-Tree farm in North Carolina had their wages stolen, were exposed to hazardous chemicals and were provided unsafe transportation, leading to severe injuries. The workers were forced to continue working as the farm owner spread toxic chemicals, leading to many of the workers having symptoms of pesticide poisoning such as headaches, dizziness and vomiting. The workers were also forced to work twelve hour shifts in the sweltering heat, without being given adequate water or rest breaks. The farmworkers decided to organize with the Farm Labor Organizing Committee (FLOC) and eventually won a $350,000 wage theft settlement. However, in response to this and other victories for basic labor rights, Republican legislators in the state recently passed a law that makes it illegal for unions to automatically deduct union dues from workers’ paychecks, with the objective of weakening union participation. FLOC and the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), along with a coalition of civil rights groups, have filed a federal lawsuit challenging this North Carolina law.

 

Truthout Article Criticizes Rep. Goodlatte’s H-2C Proposal

 

         A recent Truthout article details how Rep. Goodlatte’s proposed Agricultural Guestworker Act (H.R. 4092) would strip migrant workers of the few rights they have and also undercut U.S. workers. The article highlights some of the most concerning provisions of the proposed H-2C program and notes that it would produce conditions similar to indentured servitude. It also discusses the importance of workers being able to participate in a union in order to protect their rights and recounts recent farmworker unionization efforts in North Carolina, Ohio, Washington and Kentucky.

 

Congress Passes New Budget Resolution without Providing DACA Solution  

 

         Immigrant rights advocates, including many DREAMers themselves, engaged in intensive mobilization during the month of December to seek a Congressional solution for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) recipients before the end of the year. Advocates were calling for Congress to include a DACA solution in its next budget resolution, as its previous budget resolution was set to expire today (December 22).  Unfortunately, the continuing resolution that was passed yesterday, which is set to expire on January 19, 2018, did not include relief for DREAMers. Although some Democrats cast a no vote on the bill because it did not provide a DACA solution, along with several other issues, enough moderate Democrats joined Republicans to get the bill passed. Farmworker Justice is deeply disappointed in this failure of Congress to provide protections for DREAMers. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has stated that Congress may consider DACA legislation, as well as other immigration legislation, in January 2018 if members are able to reach an agreement. Farmworker Justice will continue to support the need for immigration relief for DREAMers as well as for Temporary Protected Status (TPS) recipients. We will also be closely watching for harmful immigration changes, including a possible expansion of the H-2A visa program to year-round industries, as was included in the House’s proposed FY 2018 DHS appropriations bill. We will continue to monitor Congressional developments in this regard.

 

DHS Releases FY 2017 Immigration Enforcement Statistics 

 

     Earlier this month, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) announced its FY 2017 statistics on immigration enforcement actions by both Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). CBP reported a total of 310,531 apprehensions nationwide, 303,916 of which were along the Southwest border. ICE reported 143,470 administrative arrests and 226,119 removals. Through the start of the Trump Administration on January 20, 2017 through the end of the fiscal year (on September 30, 2017) ICE made 110,568 arrests compared to 77,806 during the same period in FY2016 - an increase of approximately 40 percent.

 

U.K. Faces Agricultural Labor Challenges as a Result of “Brexit”

 

      As in the U.S., the agricultural sector in the U.K. is heavily dependent on immigrant labor. As reported by the New York Times, the U.K.’s recent decision to leave the European Union has led to concerns, expressed primarily by agricultural employers, that there will not be sufficient labor to grow their crops.  During the year following the Brexit vote, net migration to the UK fell by approximately a third, the largest annual drop in migration since the country began keeping records in 1964. Among the migrants decreasing their travel to the UK are manual laborers from countries such as Romania and Bulgaria. Though the U.K.’s political and economic context is different from the U.S. in many ways, this situation highlights the tensions between anti-immigrant sentiment and practical labor needs that are common to both countries.   

 

Update on Farmworker Health and Safety

 

          EPA May Weaken Key Provisions of Recently Updated Worker Protection Rules

 

        The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recently announced that it may try to rewrite key provisions of the Worker Protection Standard (WPS) and Certified Pesticide Applicator (CPA) rule, two important regulations aimed at ensuring that farmworkers receive adequate training and protection from pesticide exposure. This announcement is very concerning given that there was already a detailed rule-making process for both rules which involved multiple stakeholders, including Farmworker Justice, and led to important revisions which should already be in effect. Now the EPA has backtracked, bowing to pressure from agribusiness groups, and will soon be opening up the rules for potential changes to key provisions including a minimum age for pesticide handlers, the right of workers to access information about pesticides they are exposed to, and protection from exposures to workers and bystanders during applications. Apart from the confusion and delays in the implementation of the rules caused by recent EPA actions, this decision by EPA could also have significant effects on funding for the agency.  Sen. Tom Udall has placed a hold on the reauthorization of the Pesticide Registration Improvement Act (PRIA) as a response to the EPA’s unorthodox actions concerning these two rules, as well as the reversal of its decision to ban the pesticide chlorpyrifos earlier this year. Senator Udall has also expressed concern regarding the EPA’s mischaracterization of the discussion of these provisions at a recent Pesticide Program Dialogue Committee (PPDC) meeting. Farmworker Justice is a member of the PPDC and is similarly concerned that the EPA’s summary of the meeting does not accurately reflect what was discussed, as well as the fact that the transcript of the meeting still has not been made public.

 

Tax Bill Eliminates Individual Mandate, Key Funding for Health Programs Still Pending

 

        The tax bill passed by Congress this week eliminates the individual mandate penalty in 2019 and also prohibits taxpayers from claiming the child tax credit if they do not have a Social Security number.  According to analysis by the Congressional Budget Office (CBO), repeal of the individual mandate will result in 13 million more uninsured individuals by 2027Additionally, Congress has yet to fully reauthorize CHIP (the recent budget CR extends funding only until March 2018) and has not reauthorized Community Health Center funding, which both expired on September 30, 2017. According to a new issue brief by the Georgetown Center for Children and Families, 25 states are set to run out of these funds by the end of January 2018. Community health centers, in the meantime, are starting to plan for possible staff reductions and clinic closures. Both CHIP and community health centers are critical to farmworkers' access to health care. Their funding must be renewed as soon as possible to ensure the programs' long-term stability. 

 

Open Enrollment Period Continues in Some States

 

        In most states, open enrollment for 2018 ended on December 15, but there are a handful of states where open enrollment continues. These states include Florida, Georgia, and Texas, impacted by hurricanes, and California and New York, which operate their own marketplaces. More information about these deadlines can be found here. Enrollment has been strong. According to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), 8.8 million consumers had enrolled in health insurance through healthcare.gov as of December 15. Despite the shorter open enrollment period, that represents close to the total number enrolled last year. Open enrollment may be over for many farmworkers, but some workers and their families may still qualify to enroll through a Special Enrollment Period. More information about Special Enrollment Periods can be found on healthcare.gov

 

Happy New Year 2018!

 

2017 has been a challenging year for farmworkers and farmworker advocates on all fronts, including immigration, labor, occupational health and safety and access to health. Farmworker Justice remains committed to improving farmworkers’ living and working conditions with the help of all of our invaluable allies in the year to come. Please see our new brochure for more information on the work and impact of our organization. We hope you enjoy this holiday season with family and friends and wish you a happy and peaceful 2018.

 

Farmworker Justice Immigration Update - 12/01/17

Farmworker Justice Immigration Update - 12/01/17 

DACA and TPS Recipients Continue to Suffer from Congressional Failure to Act

December will be a key time for activism to ensure that Congress protects the approximately 1 million immigrants who are currently in danger of losing their authorized status as a result of the Administration’s recent decisions on the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) and Temporary Protected Status (TPS) programs.  Current government funding is set to expire on December 8, and lawmakers from both sides of the aisle have expressed that they will not agree to a new funding bill if it does not include a solution for Dreamers. If a solution is not reached before the deadline, Congress’ inaction could lead to a government shutdown.

DACA - According to the Center for American Progress, approximately 122 individuals a day will lose their DACA status before the program’s official expiration date of March 5, 2018, after which the number of DACA recipients losing status daily will increase even more. Once a legislative solution is reached, it will still take months from the date a bill is signed into law to implement any new legislation and confer new status. Immediate action is needed to ensure that Dreamers are protected. A coalition of immigration and labor groups is organizing a National Day of Action in support of Dreamers on December 6, including a march on the Capitol and an online march, or “iMarch,” with events in all 50 states. This will be followed by various other advocacy and action opportunities throughout the month of December.

TPS - On November 20, Acting DHS Secretary Elaine Duke announced the Administration’s decision to terminate TPS for more than 50,000 Haitians, with a delayed effective date of July 22, 2019 in order to “allow for an orderly transition.” The Haiti announcement followed a statement just two weeks earlier terminating the TPS program for Nicaragua (effective January 5, 2019) and extending the TPS designation for Honduras until July 5, 2018, with no final decision made on whether TPS for Honduras will also be terminated. El Salvador has the largest number of TPS recipients (approximately 200,000) and the Administration must make a decision on this designation by January 8, 2018. The Catholic Legal Immigration Network, Inc. (CLINIC) has various documents available online to help current TPS holders understand the implications of these recent decisions.

Legal Victory for Farmworkers in California

In a victory for farmworkers’ labor rights, on November 27 California’s Supreme Court upheld the state’s Mandatory Mediation Law. The law permits state mediators to establish binding contracts for agricultural employers when the parties are unable to reach an agreement due to the employer's violation of the law's requirement to bargain in good faith. The ruling resulted from a lawsuit brought by the United Farm Workers (UFW) against Gerawan Farming Inc., which currently owes workers more than $10 million in back wages. Congratulations to the United Farm Workers for this long fought victory!

Op-Ed Highlights Workers’ Concerns over Agricultural Guestworker Act

A recent op-ed noted many of the troubling features of Rep. Goodlatte’s proposed “Agricultural Guestworker Act,” such as its negative impact on wages and working conditions, extended periods of family separation and potential for further vulnerability for both foreign and domestic workers. The op-ed highlights concerns about the bill’s potential impact on dairy workers, who already face challenges such as wage theft and poor housing conditions. Furthermore, the op-ed notes the bill’s failure to address the need to provide a path to citizenship for the current, experienced undocumented workers doing this difficult but essential work. In contrast, the Agricultural Worker Program Act, introduced in the Senate earlier this year, offers workers a path to legal status, and with it, the possibility of family unification and the freedom to choose their own place of work. As expressed by the authors of the op-ed: “This holiday season, as we celebrate with food likely picked by guestworkers around the country, it’s time we pass the Agricultural Worker Program Act to bring farmworkers out of the shadows and into the communities their hard work supports.”

Update on Farmworker Health and Safety

Farmworker Women Combatting Sexual Harassment

A recent New York Times op-ed highlights some of the many industries where women suffer from sexual harassment but the perpetrators are not public figures, such as farm work. The article details efforts by the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW)’s Fair Food Program to incorporate sexual harassment rules and penalties into its labor agreements. This effort has resulted in multiple supervisors being disciplined and in some cases, fired, for their behavior. The Alianza Nacional de Campesinas also penned an open letter to women in Hollywood, in which they share their own experiences fighting harassment and express their support for the women who have denounced harassment. For farmworkers, as well as women in other industries, labor organizing can be a powerful tool for combating sexual harassment, because, as the NY Times op-ed notes, “sexual harassment is more about power than sex; any industry with extreme power differentials will be afflicted by it.” We echo the author’s call for the women who are newly speaking out in the limelight to rally alongside those who have been fighting sexual harassment in the shadows.

Farmworker Justice Immigration Update - 11/09/2017

Farmworker Justice Update: 11/09/17

H-2C Guestworker Proposal Approved by House Judiciary Committee  

            As noted in our previous updates, on October 25 the House Judiciary Committee passed the “Agricultural Guestworker Act” sponsored by Chairman Goodlatte. In order to become law, the bill must also be voted on and approved by the full House and Senate. As we stated in our blog about the markup, it is unclear if and when the bill will move forward in the House, but Farmworker Justice will continue to monitor the legislation. Mother Jones published an article soon after the bill’s passage in the Judiciary Committee outlining some of the ways in which the new guestworker program would prove harmful to all workers, including concerns voiced by Farmworker Justice.

House Passes Anti-Joint Employer Bill Which May Make it Harder to Hold Agricultural Employers Accountable

           On November 7, the anti-joint employer “Save Local Business Act,” HR 3441, passed the House by a vote of 242-181. The bill would revise the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) and the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) to essentially prevent joint employer liability. Although the bill does not amend the Migrant and Seasonal Agricultural Worker Protection Act (AWPA), which is the main statute protecting farmworkers, much of the case law on joint employer liability under AWPA in the farmworker setting relies on the FLSA’s broad definition of the word “employ.” If this definition is narrowed, courts and government agencies could apply the restrictive concept of joint employment in HR 3441 to AWPA as well. This could undermine farmworkers’ ability to ensure that growers and labor contractors are jointly liable for labor violations. Joint employer liability has proven essential for farmworkers to obtain relief because labor contractors often do not have sufficient assets to pay court judgments. During the debate on the bill, Rep. Espaillat of New York emphasized the bill’s potentially harmful impact on farmworkers and entered into the record Farmworker Justice’s statement on the bill. The next step for the bill is for it to move to the Senate.  Farmworker Justice will continue to monitor the bill, along with many other labor rights organizations, such as the National Employment Law Project (NELP), which recently published a New York Times op-ed against the bill.

DHS Terminates TPS Designation for Nicaragua, Undecided on Honduras  

            On November 6, acting Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Elaine Duke announced the Administration’s decision to terminate Temporary Protected Status (TPS) for Nicaragua, with an effective termination date of January 5, 2019. In the announcement, the acting Secretary also noted that additional information is needed for a decision on TPS for Honduras and temporarily extended TPS for Hondurans until July 5, 2018. Nicaraguans and Hondurans with TPS will be required to reapply for employment authorization documents in order to continue to work in the U.S. until these respective deadlines. According to the Washington Post, there are currently about 2,500 Nicaraguans and more than 50,000 Hondurans with TPS. The country with the biggest number of TPS recipients is El Salvador, with approximately 200,000 people who might lose their status in early 2018. DHS also has just a few weeks to announce its plans for more than 50,000 Haitian TPS holders (DHS had announced a six-month extension for Haitian TPS earlier this year).

                Faith, labor and immigration rights groups have denounced the Administration’s recent decision and are calling for action in defense of the TPS program, including contacting representatives in Congress. For a detailed breakdown of TPS holders in each state, please see this Fact Sheet by the Center for American Progress (CAP). The final decision on TPS designation for Honduras, as well as for other remaining countries such as El Salvador and Haiti, is likely to be made by Kirstjen Nielsen, who has been nominated to the post of DHS Secretary. Nielsen testified before the Senate Homeland Security Committee on November 8.  If approved by the Committee, her confirmation must then be voted on by the full Senate.

Uncertainty over DACA Continues as End of the Year Nears  

            Last week, President Trump held a closed-door meeting with various GOP senators regarding immigration. It was reported that during the meeting, those present decided against including a solution for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) recipients in an end of the year spending deal. In spite of these reports, Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer stated earlier this week that he is “very optimistic” that DACA legislation will pass before the end of the year with bi-partisan support. He also predicted that President Trump would not veto a spending bill with a DACA solution. Today in Congress, 16 House Republicans will hold a press conference in support of Dreamers. Congressional Democrats are also holding a press conference and have held a number of events in support of Dreamers. DACA advocates are continuing their efforts to showcase the contributions of Dreamers in their communities and urge Congress to act quickly towards a solution. As part of those efforts, United We Dream is supporting a “Walkout for the Dream Act” today. There will also be a national call-in day in support of DACA on November 14.

Amid National Conversation about Sexual Harassment, Farmworker Voice Essential

            National Public Radio (NPR) recently interviewed Rosalinda Guillen, a farmworker rights activist and director of Community to Community. As Rosalinda explained in the interview, farmworker women face harassment, sexual assault and rape, which often goes unreported.  Workers are afraid that if they speak up they will be retaliated against, or that their families, who often work for the same employer, will be retaliated against as well. The lack of privacy in farmworker housing often exacerbates farmworker women’s vulnerability to harassment.

Update on Farmworker Health and Safety

CHIP and Health Center Funding Extended, but With Harmful Offsets

On Nov. 3, the House of Representatives passed HR 3922, the “Championing Healthy Kids Act,” which extends funding for the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) for five years and for community health centers for two years. Both CHIP and community health center funding expired on September 30. The bill, while ensuring funding for these two important programs, also cuts $6.35 billion from the ACA’s Prevention and Public Health Fund and includes other harmful offsets that would reduce health insurance coverage.  The Senate Finance Committee passed a bipartisan bill, S. 1827, the “Keeping Kids’ Insurance Dependable and Secure” (KIDS) Act, on October 4. While it also extends CHIP funding for five years, the Senate bill does not include community health center funding or any offset provisions to pay for the program. It seems unlikely the Senate will vote on the KIDS Act as a standalone bill. The Kaiser Foundation has prepared a helpful summary and comparison of both bills. Some states will begin to run out of CHIP funds as early as January 2018. Without an extension of CHIP and community health center funding, farmworker families will have even less access to health insurance and health care.

Open Enrollment Has Begun!

Open enrollment for 2018 health insurance coverage has officially begun! Enrollment opened November 1 and, in most states, ends December 15 (a few states, like California and New York, extended open enrollment through January 2018). According to the Hill, a record number of people signed up for coverage in the first few days. However, the shortened open enrollment period and the cuts in navigator funding present numerous challenges, especially in farmworker communities. It’s important to remind eligible workers and their families that open enrollment has begun and that financial assistance to lower the cost of health insurance is available. Farmworker Justice has resources for workers and advocates available on our website. You can also learn more about open enrollment and available in-person assistance in your community at healthcare.gov or cuidadodesalud.gov.

Pesticides and Puerto Rico: When the Professional Becomes Personal

I had the privilege of participating in the East Coast Migrant Stream Forum for Agricultural Worker Health in Atlanta earlier this month. The annual Forum brings together outreach workers, advocates, medical professionals and many others who provide crucial health services to farmworkers. It is a great opportunity to learn from those who are working with farmworker communities on the ground, as well as share updates on what is happening at the federal level.

This year, one of my presentations focused on pesticide safety, including recent revisions to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)’s Worker Protection Standard (WPS) and best practices for identifying and treating pesticide exposure. I co-presented with Alma Galvan, Senior Program Manager of Environmental and Occupational Health at the Migrant Clinicians Network (MCN), and Dr. Jose Rodriguez, MD, Chief Medical Officer at the Castañer General Hospital in Lares, Puerto Rico.  

This was where the professional and personal collided for me. You see, I was born and raised in Hormigueros, Puerto Rico, a small town on the island’s west side, not too far from where Dr. Rodriguez lives and works. My parents, siblings, extended family and friends still live on the island. As a teenager, I often went camping in the mountains of Adjuntas, one of the five rural municipalities covered by Castañer General Hospital’s services.  

During the three weeks between Hurricane Maria’s landfall and our scheduled presentation, communication with Dr. Rodriguez, as with a lot of people on the island, was virtually nonexistent. We had resigned ourselves to doing the presentation without him, and then just a few days before the event, he was able to let us know that he was still planning to come. His arrival in Atlanta was no small feat given conditions on the island, but then again, Dr. Rodriguez is accustomed to producing miraculous results amidst seemingly hopeless circumstances.

Earlier this year, Hospital General Castañer received the EPA’s Environmental Champion Award for outstanding commitment to protecting and enhancing environmental quality and public health. Dr. Rodriguez is a leader in the identification and treatment of pesticide exposure, as well as other occupational health issues. He is a dedicated family physician and passionate advocate for his community. During our presentation, Dr. Rodriguez stressed the important role of community health advocates and local hospitals in identifying pesticide incidents and gathering and recording key information that can serve not only for more effective medical treatment, but also to support future legal and advocacy work.

During the Forum’s plenary session, Dr. Rodriguez also shared pictures of his hometown – bare trees, downed electricity poles, streams where roads used to be. He highlighted the most recent official statistics – almost half the population on the island still had no running water, and approximately 90% still had no electricity. The numbers themselves are staggering, but the many human examples of what those numbers mean are truly overwhelming. Another staggering statistic: approximately 80% of the island’s agriculture was decimated by the storm, including the island’s coffee, tropical fruit and poultry farms. As I write this a week later, I would love to report that much progress has been made, but based on information from both family updates and media reporting, that would be woefully inaccurate.  

Dr. Rodriguez also cautioned all of us about the impending public health emergency that looms over the island as recovery advances in fits and starts. He worries that the floods and landslides will lead to pesticide drift in both soil and water, including wells. Mosquito-borne illnesses like Zika, where much progress had been made before, may reappear as stagnant water remains. A lack of basic hygiene may give rise to communicable diseases, while malnutrition and a lack of potable water, especially among children and the elderly, will inevitably have significant health effects. Outbreaks of conjunctivitis and leptospirosis (a bacterial disease caused by contaminated water) have already been reported and many hospitals are only able to operate partially due to the lack of electricity and a shortage of medical supplies.

Amidst this dire picture, I am reassured by the work of individuals like Dr. Rodriguez, countless heroes who may never get recognition from a federal agency for providing such essential services to their communities, including farmworkers. The hurricane in Puerto Rico and other recent natural disasters in California, Texas and Florida have quite literally laid bare many of the inequalities and dangers that farmworkers face every day. This past month has been very difficult for many, but it has also reaffirmed the importance of fighting for farmworker communities – communities who are intimately familiar with both nature’s capacity for capriciousness and humans’ capacity for resilience.     

You can donate to Puerto Rican relief efforts through the Hispanic Federation.

 



 

The CMS’ Marketplace Stabilization Rule – What You Need to Know to Help Farmworkers Access Health Insurance

On April 13, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) released a final rule regarding market stabilization within the health insurance marketplace.[i] The rule makes several changes to current ACA provisions, including open enrollment, Special Enrollment Periods, and guaranteed availability, among others. It is likely that these changes will make access to health insurance more difficult for eligible farmworkers and their families.

Perhaps one of the most significant changes made in the rule is the shorter timeframe for open enrollment 2018. Like past open enrollment periods, this year’s open enrollment period was supposed to be from November 1st, 2017 to January 31st, 2018. Now, open enrollment 2018 will end six weeks sooner on Dec. 15th. Farmworkers, especially those who are limited English proficient or lack familiarity with the U.S. health care system, rely on in-person assistance to successfully enroll in health insurance through the marketplace. Farmworker enrollment efforts are often more time-intensive, requiring several appointments pre- and post-enrollment. Assuming that there are no changes in navigator funding, it will be critical that outreach and enrollment programs in farmworker communities are prepared to provide the same level of assistance within a shorter timeframe.

The rule also re-interprets the ACA’s guaranteed availability provision. Insurers are required to accept all consumers who enrolled, regardless of past payment history. Now, under the rule, insurers can penalize new consumers who re-enroll in health insurance and have premium debt from the last 12 months.[ii] Farmworkers who migrate or lack access to postal services may inadvertently miss a premium payment. Some farmworkers will need assistance to make timely monthly premium payments in order to avoid any future penalty.

Lastly, the rule made several changes to eligibility and enrollment during special enrollment periods (SEPs). Beginning in June, 100% pre-enrollment verification will be required for enrollment outside of the open enrollment period due to a permanent move, loss of minimum essential coverage, or Medicaid/CHIP denial. Enrollment will be pended until the verification process is complete, which involves submitting supporting documents to the marketplace (either online or by mail) within 30 days. This presents an enormous challenge to farmworkers, especially migratory workers and workers in the U.S. on H-2A temporary work visas, who may not have access to documents like leases or utility bills, or may not live in places where these documents are in their name. Fortunately, CMS recognized that not all consumers will be able to fulfill the verification requirements. CMS will implement “reasonable flexibility” that will allow individuals to send a letter about their situation if they are not able to provide sufficient supporting documentation. This may be an important tool for farmworker consumers who are unable to provide supporting documentation regarding their SEP eligibility.

Farmworkers and their families, given the risky and low-paying nature of farm work, need affordable and accessible healthcare options. The final CMS rule presents a new set of obstacles for farmworkers to obtain affordable health insurance. Assisters in farmworker communities will need to develop strategies to overcome these obstacles and maintain access to health insurance for eligible farmworkers and their families. FJ will continue to provide timely information around issues that affect farmworker access to health insurance.

 

[i] You can find the final rule at https://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/FR-2017-04-18/pdf/2017-07712.pdf.

[ii] The penalty would be added to their monthly premium and would only apply to consumers who are applying for health insurance with the same issuer or an issuer in the same control group.

Health: National Farmworker Awareness Week 2017

Day 5 of National Farmworker Awareness Week focuses on farmworker health.  Farmworker Justice has been working to protect  farmworkers' access to health care through close monitoring of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and the impacts any changes would have for farmworkers. 

Current efforts to replace the Affordable Care Act threaten to roll back important gains in health insurance coverage achieved for farmworkers and their families. By increasing costs for young, rural, low-income individuals, the failed American Health Care Act (AHCA) would have substantially reduced access to health insurance for farmworkers and their families.

The AHCA’s provisions, including eliminating the employer mandate, modifying the eligibility for tax credits, ending Medicaid expansion, and modifying the structure of Medicaid, would have left many farmworkers with higher costs and fewer options for health insurance. Lawfully present farmworkers, especially H-2A workers, would have lost their access to affordable health insurance due to the bill’s proposed changes in immigrant eligibility for tax credits. The AHCA proposed restricting eligibility for tax credits to individuals who met the “qualified alien” definition under the 1996 Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act (PRWORA).

The ACA has provided farmworkers and their families a level of access to health insurance coverage that was previously unattainable.  While the ACA can be improved, efforts to eliminate provisions such as income-based subsidies, immigrant eligibility, Essential Health Benefits, and Medicaid expansion, will only impede access to health care to farmworker families. Farmworkers need greater, not reduced access to affordable health care.

OSHA’s New Safety Standard Excludes Farmworkers

Yesterday, 6 ½ years after proposing rules to update protections for workers from slip, trip, and fall hazards, OSHA issued a final fall-protection regulation that excludes workers on farms, ranches and dairies. Farmworker Justice is extremely disappointed that the final rule excludes agriculture from these important safeguards.
Worker injuries and deaths related to falls in agriculture are among the highest in all industries. OSHA’s explanation of the regulation repeatedly refers to the submission by Farmworker Justice as well as other worker advocates of extensive evidence to show the prevalence of falls in agriculture and that these injuries are easily preventable.

OSHA declined to include agricultural operations in the final rule, stating that the agency has not gathered and analyzed data and information necessary to support a rule. The agency had ample time – years -- to study farmworkers’ injuries and deaths resulting from falls from ladders and machinery and other hazards.
The agency did attempt to narrowly define what is covered under the agriculture exemption, stating that “if an operation performed on a farm is not an “agricultural operation” or integrally related to an agricultural operation, such as a food manufacturing or other post-harvesting operations, then the final general industry rule applies.”
Farmworker Justice will continue to help farmworkers advocate to end the history of discrimination in occupational safety standards and improve occupational safety and health in their workplaces. The full text of OSHA’s standard on “Walking-Working Surfaces and Personal Protective Equipment (Fall Protection Systems)” is available here. The comments submitted by Farmworker Justice are here

Dangerous State of Affairs: State Workers’ Comp Is Deteriorating, Says Labor Department Report

[Editor’s note: This guest blog post comes from Migrant Clinicians Network’s blog, “Clinician-to-clinician: A Forum for Health Justice.” The original blog post can be found here. Migrant Clinicians Network is a nonprofit focused on health justice for the mobile poor.]

By Amy Liebman, MPA, MA, Director of Environmental and Occupational Health, and Claire Hutkins Seda, Writer & Editor, Migrant Clinicians Network

Last week, the Labor the picture is even more complicated. They typically labor in jobs that regularly post the highest numbers of injuries each year, like farming, fisheries, industrial food processing, dairies, and construction. On top of that, they often have very low pay rates and job insecurity, due to the often temporary nature of their work. Consequently, their basic economic security is often in jeopardy, even without an injury at work. This critical segment of our country’s workforce -- the immigrants who build the roofs over our heads, harvest the vegetables on our dinner plate, and head to work to clean our office buildings while we head to bed -- is in dire need of sufficient protection considering their financial concerns and likelihood of injury. And, for some of those workers, the system doesn’t provide any protection at all.

While state-based workers& Department put out a report on state-based workers’ compensation rules. The report calls for an increased federal role in workers’ comp to ensure that injured workers are provided with adequate insurance benefits to keep them afloat while they heal -- the original intent of workers’ comp. “Recent years have seen significant changes to the workers’ compensation laws, procedures, and policies in numerous states, which have limited benefits, reduced the likelihood of successful application for workers’ compensation, and/or discouraged injured workers from applying for benefits,” the report reads, calling out denial of claims that were previously compensated and a decrease in cash benefits as examples of the weakening of workers’ comp around the country. Such changes challenge the insurance system’s effectiveness in providing a timely return of the worker to work and may diminish the ability for public health officials to understand trends in injuries in order to address ongoing hazards, through a review of workers’ claims.

For immigrant workers,rsquo; comp laws have existed in the US since 1911, the laws when first enacted didn’t cover all workers; those employed in agriculture were mostly excluded from most workers’ comp laws, leaving them out of the insurance system entirely.

Today,14 states require employers to provide agricultural workers the same workers’ compensation insurance as workers in other industries. (See MCN’s Pesticide Reporting and Workers’ Comp in Agriculture Map to see state-by-state requirements.) So, for farmworkers, who have been excluded by the state systems, federal involvement may be the only way to gain more inclusion. For those farmworkers who are covered, the increasingly weak and broken workers’ comp system is two steps forward and one step back.

We at Migrant Clinicians Network applaud the Labor Department’s report in calling out the weakening state workers’ compensation systems. We call on states across the US to both augment its rules to allow for farmworkers to benefit from workers’ comp, while simultaneously fortifying its safety net to assure that workers’ comp can effectively protect injured workers of any industry.

Resources:
Learn more about workers’ comp for farmworkers, state-by-state on Migrant Clinicians Network’s Workers’ Comp and Pesticide Exposure Reporting map, here.

Read the Labor Department’s report, here.

Learn more about workers’ comp in the US today in ProPublica/NPR’s 2015 investigative reports, here.


 

FJ Celebrates Farmworker Health Day

Since their inception, community and migrant health centers have proven to be a vital access point to health care for farmworkers and their families. The Migrant Health Act of 1962 and Economic Opportunity Act of 1964 set in motion the network of locally driven, federally supported health centers that exist today. By having patient representation on the board of directors and partnering with other local organizations, health centers are able to evolve to meet the needs of farmworkers. As a result, health centers are often the most viable, affordable, and culturally competent providers of primary care for farmworkers.

Farmworkers face a number of barriers to care. In focus groups conducted by Farmworker Justice last year, many workers and promotores de salud discussed barriers such as transportation, language access (including availability and quality of interpretation services), cost, and clinic operating hours. They are also a highly mobile population who may need care coordination across multiple states.

Migrant health centers work to mitigate these challenges by performing enabling services such as outreach, translation, and case management. With farmworkers on their boards of directors, they are able to institute policies to respond to the needs of the community. For example, in recognition of the transportation barriers in rural communities, many migrant health centers have mobile clinics at farmworker labor camps, with some even arranging transportation to the clinic. Additionally, because most farmworkers lack health insurance and their average wages are near the federal poverty line, health centers offer care on a sliding fee scale.

In response to an FJ needs assessment survey last year, almost universally, workers, promotores de salud and community organizations cited the local health center as a critical source of primary care for farmworkers and their families when asked about health care access in their communities. Promotores reported that the health centers were very engaged with getting information and educational materials out in the community. Workers found the providers to be compassionate. However, according to data from the Bureau of Primary Health Care, in 2014, community and migrant health centers only served approximately 20% of the nation’s farmworkers and their family members.

To increase farmworker utilization of health center services, FJ participates in the AgWorker Access 2020 Campaign, led by the National Association of Community Health Centers and the National Center for Farmworker Health. The goal of the initiative is for health centers to serve 2 million farmworkers and their families by 2020. FJ provides training and technical assistance to health centers to help them address the factors that affect farmworkers’ access to health services. FJ also leverages partnerships with community-based farmworker organizations, legal services providers, Migrant and Seasonal Head Start, and other farmworker-serving organizations to strengthen relationships between the health center and the community it serves. 

FJ is proud to celebrate Health Center Week and is committed to working with health centers to continue their strong tradition of providing health care in farmworker communities.
 

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