Ag Policy Blog

USDA Provides $50 Million to Farms for Migrant Labor Program

Chris Clayton
By  Chris Clayton , DTN Ag Policy Editor
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Laborers head to the orchards on a farm in Oregon. USDA on Friday announced a $50 million grant program to help farmers recruit farm workers from Central America, but also improve the work standards for those workers that are recruited as well. (DTN file photo by Jim Patrico)

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack will be in Palisade, Colo., a peach-growing area, on Friday to announce that USDA is awarding $50 million to 141 farms and businesses in 40 states and Puerto Rico, through the Farm Labor Stabilization and Protection Pilot Program (FLSP Program).

The money will be used to improve the lives of more than 11,000 farmworkers, help improve the resiliency of the U.S. food supply chain by addressing agriculture labor challenges and instability, strengthen protections for farmworkers, and expand legal pathways for labor migration, USDA said in a news release.

The grants to farms range from as small as $25,000 to as large as $1.72 million. Most of the grant awardees note the challenge of finding workers and labor shortages they face. While most of the farms are involved in fruit and vegetable production, others also are custom harvesters and livestock operations as well.

USDA stated roughly 60% of the farms awarded grants will use the H-2A visa program to recruit workers from Northern Central America.

Grants were awarded to increase the workforce, but also to improve farmworker pay or upgrade working conditions such as housing and health care.

"These awards will largely support small and mid-sized farms to ensure they can hire and retain the workers they need to be competitive in the market, while also lifting up rural communities across the country," Vilsack said in a news release. "Farmworkers make an incredibly important contribution to food and agriculture and ensure we have food on our tables every day. Improving working conditions and quality of life for farmworkers, both U.S.-based workers and those that come to our country to work, is one key step in building a stronger, more resilient food supply chain. The Farm Labor Stabilization and Protection Pilot Program demonstrates the Biden-Harris administration's commitment to supporting employers and farmworkers alike."

USDA noted that the FLSP Program "delivers on a commitment made as part of the Los Angeles Declaration on Migration and Protection and furthers the administration's commitment to a regional approach to migration in the hemisphere." The declaration was signed in June 2022 as part of a summit to address migration challenges.

USDA also said FLSP "was designed with significant input from immigration, labor, and agricultural stakeholders -- informed by the experiences of farmworkers and farmers themselves."

USDA said, "The FLSP Program grants will support a range of required and elective supplemental commitments to expand benefits and protections for all employees. Examples of awardee commitments include:

- Establishing robust pay-related benefits that have the potential to raise earnings for thousands of workers, as well as provide them more time with their families or taking care of their health through policies such as personal and paid sick time off, and mid-season vacation leave;

-Markedly improving working and living conditions by strengthening employer-employee engagement, such as establishing collaborative working groups with robust farmworker representation and partnerships with external organizations that have longstanding experience collaborating with farmworkers;

- Providing additional worker-friendly benefits, such as advancement and management training opportunities, driver's license training, no-cost English classes for employees, and additional recreation spaces in housing facilities;

- Supporting know-your-rights-and-resources training sessions for all workers to ensure they understand their legal rights as workers in the United States;

-Participation in worker-driven social responsibility programs -- a proven model for improving workplace environments -- such as the Fair Food Program;

- Disclosing recruitment practices and advancing ethical, safe recruitment practices that are essential to protecting workers from illegal fees, undue debt, exploitation, and even human trafficking.

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