Jul 13, 2022
Representatives, industry members implore Senate to pass ag labor bill

National and state agricultural leaders joined Republican members of Congress to urge legislators to pass bipartisan workforce solutions to address the farm labor shortage in order to combat inflation.

A July 13 news conference included U.S. Representatives Dan Newhouse (R-WA), Jim Baird (R-IN), Doug LaMalfa (R-CA) and Mike Simpson (R-ID). They rallied support for Senators Mike Crapo (R-ID) and Michael Bennet (D-CO) as they continue their bipartisan efforts to introduce Senate legislation that builds on the House-passed Farm Workforce Modernization Act (FWMA) which passed in 2019 and again in 2021, with strong bipartisan support.

“Consumers are seeing high costs of milk, produce, fruits, meat and eggs in the supermarket because the Senate has not acted,” ABIC (American Business Immigration Coalition) Action Executive Director and event emcee Rebecca Shi said. “We need the Senate to act now to provide food security and lower costs for the American people.”

Republican members of the House of Representatives called on the Senate to pass a bill this session.

“This is a vitally important issue for America. We passed it twice in the house,” Simpson said. “We want the Senate to act on it and we want them to do it this year… I am living proof that you can actually talk about immigration and go out and win an election.”

Others called out reasons that a farm labor bill is so crucial.

“I am here for one reason today and that’s to encourage, to plead, with our senate colleagues to come together so that we can finally fix our broken immigration system and combat the rising cost of food in our country that every single American is facing,” Newhouse said in the release. “By ensuring that we have a legal and reliable workforce we can secure [our] food supply, food security, and reduce food costs for all Americans. We can raise wages and reduce unemployment for all American workers by creating value-added upstream jobs … What are we waiting for?”

Baird said that farmers throughout the country are struggling to navigate soaring costs, supply chain issues and ongoing labor shortage.

“Law and regulations around this have not been examined for decades now, and, as a result, American farmers and ranchers are under-equipped to meet demands,” Baird said. “I hear all too often about challenges that current policy created for industry already under immense strain. That’s why I support FWMA and will continue to support other common-sense legislation that will give farmers the help they need.”

Rep. LaMalfa elaborated on the bipartisan efforts to pass a bill this year, referring to the Farm Workforce Modernization Act as a “delicately balanced piece of legislation.

“Both sides are at the table giving and taking. It’s not about sides so much on this thing, because it’s helping resolve a long-term issue in agriculture and it’s a stable workforce…” he said. “You have perishable crops and farmers can’t get them to the stores. …This is about getting food to people that is grown in this country with high standards.”

Chuck Connor, president of National Council of Farmer Cooperatives, put the bill in historical context and pointed out its vital role in securing the nation’s food supply.

“For more than a decade, a wide range of agriculture groups have come together to push for a solution to the agriculture labor crisis in a united effort… Yet, it’s the events of the past few years – from the COVID to the war in Ukraine – that have highlighted, for me, a fact that often gets overlooked in this debate – our national security is tied to our ability to feed ourselves, and that ability is currently under extreme threat because of the agriculture labor crisis.”

At the press conference, Texas A&M University Associate Professor Sean Maddan released data from a new economic study on the link between stabilizing the agricultural workforce and decreasing inflation and consumer prices.

The study shows that ensuring farmers have a stable, secure, reliable and legal workforce is crucial to keeping America’s grocery shelves stocked, combating inflation and lowering food prices (including milk, eggs, meat and produce) for all domestic consumers.

“Overall, the findings in this study tended to support the conclusion that policies on non-citizen admissions and immigration have a profound association with the economy,” Maddan said. “The relationships denoted above are strong, statistically significant relationships, and definitely warrant further research and consideration.”

The Texas A&M study’s topline findings include:

  • More migrant and more H-2A workers are related with lower inflation.
  • More migrant and more H-2A workers are associated with higher average wages and minimum wages.
  • More migrant and more H-2A workers are associated with lower unemployment.
  • More denied petitions for naturalization are associated with larger consumer prices and higher inflation.
  • More petitions for naturalization are associated with lower inflation.

The data for this research were collected from official sources that include the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis, U.S. Customs and Border Protection and the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Information was collected from 1960-2020 for most data points, associated with meats, poultry, milk and eggs.

Additional Statements

International Fresh Produce Association CEO Cathy Burns: “Without immigration reform, we know that American consumers will continue to experience higher prices and fewer options at the grocery store, threatening food security and availability. Any threat to the availability of fresh produce undermines the health benefits of fruits and vegetables in combating the chronic diseases that cost our economy billions.”

National Council of Agricultural Employers President and CEO Michael Marsh: “A nation unable to feed itself has impaired its national security. A bipartisan coalition of leaders in the House of Representatives successfully negotiated and passed ag labor reform. We now need the Senate to act. We applaud U.S. Senators Michael Bennett of Colorado and Mike Crapo of Idaho for their bipartisan leadership in that Chamber and look forward to helping them advance their version of this critical legislation in the U.S. Senate.”

Enrique Sanchez, ABIC Intermountain Region Director, DACA recipient and son of a farm worker: “I am here as a representative for ABIC Action and as a DACA recipient and child of former farm workers. Due to his status, my father was unable to join my mother during my birth in Mexico. The agricultural sector is facing devastating labor shortages. If this is not addressed, Americans will continue to see empty grocery shelves and higher prices. American farmers need access to a safe, legal and reliable workforce through new Senate legislation being negotiated by Senators Crapo and Bennet.”

New York Farm Bureau President David Fisher: “It is paramount that we have an agricultural guestworker system that addresses both long- and short-term farm labor needs in this country. We look forward to a Senate bill that would modernize the federal H-2A program to have a continuous, legal workforce for all sectors of agriculture. This includes opening the system to year-round employees that are needed on farms that milk cows and care for livestock. We must all come together to fix a longtime problem that will support our farms and the American people. Food security is national security.”

Utah Farm Bureau Federation President Ron Gibson: “Reform to our immigration and guest worker program is long overdue. Farmers and their employees need a system that provides long-term stability. The current legislation has several critical shortcomings that need to be addressed, including ensuring that the costs to use the guestworker program do not impede a farm’s ability to remain viable. In the Senate, Senators Mike Crapo (R-ID) and Mike Bennet (D-CO) have taken the lead on negotiating much-needed improvements on the House’s solutions and moving the process forward. Passing new Senate legislation is critical to solving labor shortages facing Utah’s agriculture sector and sustaining the state’s economy as a whole.”

AmericanHort Director of Advocacy and Government Affairs Sara Neagu-Reed: “Congress is within reach of attaining long-sought agricultural workforce reforms, this year! We stand here today, encouraging Senators (Mike Crapo (R-ID) and Mike Bennet (D-CO)) to finish their work building on the bipartisan foundations laid by the House, put forward ideas and solutions, and for the Senate to pass legislation to finally address the agricultural workforce challenges.”

—International Fresh Produce Association

 


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