Pa. Farm Bureau examines state’s labor needs
CAMP HILL, Pa. — While the need to reform agricultural labor remains a priority for agriculture, the Farm Workforce Modernization Act bill currently in the U.S. House of Representatives has raised concerns.
As the bill advanced to the House Judiciary Committee, American Farm Bureau Federation President Zippy Duvall said the bill falls short of a long-term solution to farm labor shortages. Duvall added that the shortages constitute one of the most significant barriers to farm success in several regions of the country.
Pennsylvania Farm Bureau President Rick Ebert pointed out, “Adequate farm labor continues to be one of the biggest challenges facing farm families across Pennsylvania and the nation. We believe that the Farm Workforce Modernization Act addresses some of the problems associated with the H-2A program, but more needs to be done.”
Ebert noted, “Although recent changes to the legislation would allow dairy farmers and mushroom growers to access workers via H-2A, the bill limits the number of visas available for year-round farming enterprises. Farm Bureau is looking to remedy the shortcomings in the bill to make sure we have a guest worker program that meets the labor needs for agriculture now and in the future.
“We are also seeking changes in the bill that would help American farmers compete with foreign imports by eliminating some of the burdensome costs engrained in the H-2A program,” Ebert continued.
Farm Bureau stands with AFBF on recognizing the efforts the bill makes toward expanding the access to labor and for granting legal status to existing farm workers.
But, both indicate that changes are needed. Duvall said that key amendments would ensure a fair and competitive wage rate and limitations on the use of federal courts to solve workplace grievances.
Duvall writes, “We desperately need a solution that works for all farmers and ranchers and helps them hire the legal, skilled workers they need.” He offered assistance in addressing the bill’s shortcomings to bring it closer to a real solution to agriculture’s labor challenge.
The Farm Workforce Modernization Act, HR 4916, establishes a program for agricultural workers to earn legal status through continued agricultural employment. It addresses the H-2A program, wages, housing and residency status.
It mandates E-Verify for agricultural employees.
To be eligible for status, applicants must show at least 180 days of agricultural employment over the past two years, and pass a background check. Qualified applicants are provided five-year renewable agricultural work visas. Those without eligibility criteria but with experience can apply for H-2A visas. Current H-2A visa holders can remain in the program.
Individuals who have worked for ten years can earn Lawful Permanent Resident status and must pay a $1,000 fine and work four more years before they can apply.
Those who have worked less than 10 years must work eight more years before applying plus pay the fine.
The bill reforms the wage governance by freezing the 2020 wages, limiting decreasing wages for 2021 to 2029 by 1.5 percent or increasing by more than 3.25 percent. For 2030 and beyond the Secretaries of Agriculture and Labor will determine wage structure by rulemaking. Now wage requirements would apply for the duration of the contract.
In the bill housing availability is incentivized through tripling the funding on several loan and grant programs.
Rental assistance grants are also increased.
A new capped program for temporary workers to fill year-round needs is proposed, but the Secretaries of Agriculture and Labor would be enabled to increase the visas for market conditions.
In addition, visas would be available for dairy and non-dairy needs.
The bill also dedicates an additional 40,000 green cards per year.
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