By Daniel Sheehan, AFOP Executive Director
Summer has officially arrived in Washington, D.C. The weather has settled into its typical pattern of hot temperatures, sticky humidity, and hazy, unmoving air. I can feel the heat bake into my head, back, and shoulders as I walk the short distance from my air-conditioned home to my soon-to-be air-conditioned car. Any more than a few minutes out there would be unpleasant, to say the least.
Meanwhile, across the country, farmworkers, up since 4:30 a.m., are working in that same humidity, but not heat, because fields are always ten degrees hotter – for very low pay and no benefits – to provide our nation with the most essential of essentials: the very food we eat. Frontline workers in the truest sense of the word, farmworkers need help if they are to survive the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. Routinely exposed to dangerous pesticides and heat stress as it is, they are also in the COVID-19 crosshairs. They often work in very close quarters with little opportunity for distancing. They may live in tight, poorly ventilated on-farm housing that can be a veritable petri dish for the virus. They can also lack the accurate and timely information they need to make their own personal-health decisions. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to understand that, should the disease ravage farmworkers, doing so would put the nation’s entire food supply at risk.
Another sign of summertime in Washington is in full view, too: lawmakers dawdling despite the pressing need for quick action. AFOP is pushing Congress to pass additional coronavirus-response legislation to help those who labor in agriculture under such perilous conditions. The House passed an additional $25 million for the National Farmworker Jobs Program (NFJP) as part of its HEROES Act, but Senate leaders derided the overall HEROES Act as too much too soon, resolving to wait to see how earlier-approved relief spending would affect the public health crisis. Unfortunately, the Senate has sat on pandemic relief for more than six weeks and counting.
Thankfully, AFOP is not alone in pressing for additional coronavirus relief. The whole of the anti-poverty community is advocating for more legislation and funding. Even the business community is asking that Congress come again to the bargaining table to hash out a bipartisan plan for further assistance.
Those efforts may be bearing fruit. Recent news reports say that the Senate majority leader has set aside the first week of August, immediately before Congress’s month-long recess, to consider a relief package. Ahead of that, AFOP will continue to push all the harder to educate lawmakers about the special circumstances and needs of farmworkers and how the successful and proven NFJP is the most effective conduit for worker support. AFOP will not rest because, still, the farmworker suffers.