The Senate is set to OK President Joe Biden’s nominees for Interior secretary and U.S. Trade Representative this week, while the House looks to jump-start a congressional debate over immigration reform and farm labor.
President-elect Joe Biden is out with a $1.9 trillion stimulus proposal that includes some significant new food assistance provisions, including an extension through the summer of the 15% increase in SNAP benefits provided by the COVID aid package enacted in December.
President-elect Joe Biden will nominate a former labor leader, Boston Mayor Marty Walsh, to become labor secretary. That’s a critical position for farmers and farmworkers because of the Labor Department’s regulation of labor standards and authority over the H-2A visa program.
A handful of ag groups have been pushing the federal government to get farm and food employees right behind health care workers and vulnerable populations in the COVID-19 vaccine distribution line. Now, that request has also been filtered to the nation’s 50 governors.
Almost overnight specialty crop producers changed the way they operated by staggering work times, increasing shuttle transports, and providing educational training to keep employees safe during the COVID-19 outbreak.
The American Farm Bureau Federation delivers the Trump administration a detailed list of requests to swiftly use its authority under the $2 trillion economic stimulus package to rescue “all sectors of agriculture” from the twin blows of plunging commodity prices and the COVID-19 pandemic.
The State Department agreed to accelerate approvals of H-2A farm workers by waiving interviews for many applicants, a move welcomed by agricultural groups who feared that embassy cutbacks amid the COVID-19 pandemic would leave farms without needed labor.
The Democratic-controlled House approved a bill Wednesday to expand the H-2A visa program to year-round farmworkers and provide growers relief from wage hikes, but the broad GOP opposition underscored the challenge of getting Congress to address the agricultural labor squeeze.