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National Health Center Week — Eat Food? Thank a Farmworker!!

National Health Center Week — Eat Food? Thank a Farmworker!!

By: Ed Franchi
Director, Statewide Agricultural Worker Program
Keystone Rural Health 

That is a bumper sticker that many may think is silly. However, it is so true!! Our agricultural workers (or farmworkers) are essential workers regardless of whether we are in the middle of a pandemic or not. As a result, they need to be treated as such. And now that we are dealing with COVID-19, this couldn’t be more true. We must keep our farmworkers healthy so they can continue to put food on our table. Yet, they are very often forgotten about. Many farmworkers travel long distances to work on a farm. Their living arrangements are very often crowded, and in some cases inadequate. They are constantly dealing with other challenges as well (transportation, access to healthcare, separation from family, language issues, etc.). Throw on top of this the current COVID situation, and the situation become even more difficult. Social distancing and proper sanitation are almost impossible in certain situations. If we don’t take measures to ensure the health and safety of our farmworkers, COVID-19 could spread rapidly among this population.

Keystone Rural Health Center staff getting ready to provide COVID-19 education and clinical assessments

Because farmworkers are essential workers, especially during this pandemic, lawmakers must address their safety. Unfortunately, federal law exempts farmworkers from some of the rights most other workers enjoy. The lack of federal legal protection for undocumented farmworkers and those working under a H-2A visas are particularly dangerous. Some examples include not having access to sick leave, minimum wage issues, not being entitled to overtime pay, health insurance, and others. In addition to these “normal” challenges, the Families First Coronavirus Response Act, which provides free COVID-19 testing, excludes categories such as undocumented and H-2A workers.

We need to take immediate action to safeguard the farmworkers, who are literally on the front lines of the pandemic. We cannot afford to leave this population so vulnerable. Farm owners should be required to provide certain measures and benefits to ensure their safety. Congress needs to take action to expand farmworker protections at the federal level. Information for this blog was in support of an article from the Center for American Progress (https://www.americanprogress.org/issues/economy/reports/2020/04/23/483488/protecting-farmworkers-coronavirus-securing-food-supply/). Please consider getting involved. Visit the following website for more information: