Ag Policy Blog

House Members Reintroduce Farm Workforce Modernization Act

Jerry Hagstrom
By  Jerry Hagstrom , DTN Political Correspondent
Year-round dairy workers are excluded from the seasonal H-2A guest worker program, but the Farm Workforce Modernization Act would change the program to allow H-2A workers to remain in the country longer and work on farmers such as dairy operations. Like the last Congress, the bill will likely pass the House, but face long odds in the evenly-split Senate. (DTN file photo by Chris Clayton)

House Judiciary Immigration and Citizenship Subcommittee Chair Zoe Lofgren, D-Calif., and Rep. Dan Newhouse, R-Wash., on Wednesday reintroduced their Farm Workforce Modernization Act (FWMA), a bill they say “aims to provide a compromise solution that makes meaningful reforms to the H-2A agricultural guest-worker program and creates a first-of-its-kind, merit-based visa program specifically designed for the nation's agricultural sector.”

The bill passed the House in the 116th Congress but was not considered by the Senate.

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., said that the House will take up several immigration bills the week of March 15, The Hill reported. This raise questions about how these various stand-along bills mess with President Joe Biden's comprehensive proposal.

The Lofgren-Newhouse bill would provide a path to legal status for current farm workers who are undocumented. The bill also would streamline the H-2A temporary worker visa program as well.

“The men and women who work America's farms feed the nation. But many of them do so while living and working in a state of uncertainty and fear, which has only been heightened by the COVID-19 pandemic,” Lofgren said in a news release. “Stabilizing the workforce will protect the future of our farms and our food supply."

Newhouse said in a joint news release with Lofgren, “American agriculture is desperately in need of a legal, reliable workforce. The Farm Workforce Modernization Act is a solution – negotiated in good faith by agriculture groups, labor representatives, and members on both sides of the aisle – that will do just that,” Newhouse said. “As one of only a few farmers in Congress, I understand the invaluable contributions our producers and farmworkers make to our nation's unparalleled agriculture industry. Bringing our agriculture labor program into the 21st century is absolutely critical as we work to recover from the impacts of the pandemic and ensure a stable food supply chain in the United States. We must act now to provide certainty to farmers, ranchers, and farmworkers across the country.”

United Fresh Produce Association President and CEO Tom Stenzel said the bill “is a testament to the efforts of the agriculture industry and our friends in labor and of course to the bipartisan members of Congress who are supporting this legislation. There remains work to be done to address our industry's labor challenges, but this bill is an integral first step towards achieving our ultimate goal. United Fresh Produce Association and its members have pushed for this reform for many years, and we look forward to working with Congress and the administration to make it a reality.”

Western Growers President & CEO Dave Puglia said his members “appreciate the efforts of Reps. Zoe Lofgren and Dan Newhouse, and all of our congressional champions, to keep the agricultural labor crisis front and center in the debate over immigration reform.

“Two critical needs for agriculture are addressed in this legislation. First, it provides a mechanism to ensure that farming operations can retain existing, experienced workers. Secondly, the bill reforms the visa program to secure a reliable future flow of guest workers. Additionally, after a satisfactory transition period, it includes E-Verify for agricultural employers, demonstrating our industry's commitment to a long-term labor solution.”

National Milk Producers Federation President and CEO Jim Mulhern said, “This bipartisan bill takes a significant step toward ultimately addressing through legislation the workforce crisis plaguing American agriculture. NMPF urges the House to swiftly pass this bipartisan measure to demonstrate to the Senate that bipartisan ag labor reform can and must be done. NMPF would then continue its work to strengthen areas in this legislation that are key for dairy's workforce as this priority issue moves forward in the Senate.”

National Council of Farmer Cooperatives President and CEO Chuck Conner said that the nation's farmer co-ops want to thank Lofgren and Newhouse for their leadership and also Reps. Mike Simpson, R-Idaho, Jimmy Panetta, D-Calif., Doug LaMalfa, R-Calif., Jim Costa, D-Calif., and Mario Diaz-Balart, R-Fla., for “working to ensure the agreements made in developing the FWMA were kept intact during this reintroduction.”

“The bill provides an opportunity to obtain an earned legal status for the current workforce in agriculture; it codifies many of the reforms that were recently made to the current H-2A program and provides some certainty over labor costs; and it authorizes a limited number of year-round visas for those farmers with year-round labor needs, such as those in dairy and livestock.

“Once the bill is, hopefully, approved by the House, we look forward to working with the Senate to ensure that any final legislation addresses concerns with the FWMA and ensures the future competitiveness of farmers and ranchers.”

Costa said in a news release, “Providing a path to legal citizenship for the men and women who work to put food on our dinner tables is long overdue,” Costa said. “California's farming communities have dealt with worker shortages for years, a problem that has only gotten worse during the COVID-19 pandemic. Throughout this crisis, workers have risked their health and safety to feed Americans. These essential workers deserve a path to legal residency.”

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., in a news release about the American Dream and Promise Act as well as the Farm Workforce Modernization Act, said, “The House salutes Congresswoman Lucille Roybal-Allard (D-Calif.), the godmother of H.R. 6, and Chair Zoe Lofgren, a champion of farmworkers, for their leadership. We thank the Dreamers, TPS and DED communities and farmworkers across the nation who have spoken out in defense of their rights with great dignity and eloquence, refusing to be forced back into the shadows.”

-Farm Workforce Modernization Act Summary https://newhouse.house.gov/…

Jerry Hagstrom can be reached at jhagstrom@nationaljournal.com

Follow him on Twitter @hagstromreport

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