U.S. Sen. Alex Padilla from California has introduced a pair of bills intended to allow the U.S. Department of Agriculture to better meet the needs of farm and food system workers. The first one, the Supporting Our Farm and Food System Workforce Act, would create the USDA Office of the Farm and Food System Workforce to serve as a liaison and a resource for farm and food system workers. The second, called the Voice for Farm Workers Act, would expand the role and staff of the USDA Farmworker Coordinator to allow for increased collaboration within the Department, with farm workers, and with relevant stakeholders.
Padilla’s legislation addresses key priorities from the USDA Equity Commission Interim Report, which notes that the Farmworker Coordinator position has not been adequately funded or sustained, and recommends that the USDA fund and elevate roles for professional staff solely dedicated to farm workers’ concerns and perspectives.
Here are more on the bills:
Supporting Our Farm and Food System Workforce Act
This legislation would establish a new Office of the Farm and Food System Workforce within the USDA to uplift the voices of farm workers and food system workers at the federal level. The Office would serve as a link between these workers and the USDA, providing a platform for their concerns and interests and helping develop recommendations and new initiatives for the Department.
The bill would also create a Farm and Food System Worker Advisory Committee of relevant stakeholders — such as farm and food system workers, labor unions, civil rights advocates, higher education, women farm worker or food system groups, and non-profits — to better represent these workers’ interests and perspectives. Building upon the USDA Equity Commission recommendations, it would also set up a Farm and Food System Workforce Interagency Council, comprised of representatives from various federal agencies to improve coordination, planning, program development, and policymaking across cabinet-level leadership.
In addition, the Supporting Our Farm and Food System Workforce Act would require the Office to summarize its efforts to improve the work and livelihood of farm and food system workers in an annual publicly available report examining, for example, how climate change affect the food system and recommendations for improving access to USDA programs and initiatives.
Voice for Farm Workers Act
The USDA Farmworker Coordinator position, established in the 2008 Farm Bill, serves as a dedicated liaison for the Department and farm workers nationwide but has lacked the sufficient staff and resources to adequately address farm workers’ needs. This legislation would strengthen the Coordinator position with new resources and staffing capacity to improve the ability of the Coordinator to act as USDA’s primary point of contact on farm worker issues, coordinate and advise on farm worker serving programs across the Department and federal agencies, and support farm workers and farm worker-oriented community-based organizations to better access USDA programs.
Specifically, the Voice for Farmworkers Act would expand the Farmworker Coordinator duties to allow for the Coordinator to create recommendations for new initiatives and programs, conduct further outreach and research related to farm workers, and collaborate within the Department on programmatic and policy decisions related to farm workers. In addition, it would integrate additional entities for the Farmworker Coordinator to consult with such as institutions of higher education, local education agencies, and community-based nonprofit organizations.
Furthermore, the bill would allow the USDA to employ the staff necessary to assist the Farmworker Coordinator carry out their responsibilities to better meet the needs of our nation’s farm workers.
Senator Padilla considers himself a longtime champion for farm and food system workers in California and across the country. He had recently reintroduced the Fairness for Farm Workers Act, legislation to update the nation’s labor laws to ensure farm workers receive fairer wages and compensation.
“Our farm and food system workers feed the nation and sustain our economy. Too often, lack of access to language services, outreach, and USDA programs leaves them vulnerable to challenges including food and housing insecurity, lack of health care access, and inadequate job protections,” Padilla said. “These bills would equip the USDA with important tools to integrate workers’ key priorities and viewpoints, including enhancing collaboration across the Department, with the federal government, and with key outside stakeholders.”
The two bills announced this week are cosponsored by Sens. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Peter Welch (D-Vt.) and Ron Wyden (D-Ore.). Senator Cory Booker (D-N.J.) is also a cosponsor of the Voice for Farm Workers Act.
Both bills have been endorsed by the United Farm Workers, United Food and Commercial Workers International Union, Union of Concerned Scientists, Harvard Law School Food Law and Policy Clinic, Alianza Nacional de Campesinas, HEAL (Health, Environment, Agriculture, and Labor) Food Alliance, Farmworker Justice, Rural Coalition, Farmworker Association of Florida, National Resource Defense Council, California Rural Legal Assistance Foundation, National Employment Law Project, and National Education Association.
“Farm and food system workers are the backbone of our country, working tirelessly to put food on our tables. We must ensure that their voices are represented in government so we can address their concerns and needs. These bills will not only help amplify their voices within the federal government, but will also ensure we provide the resources to meet their needs. I am proud to fight for our nation’s farm and food system workers and push for their voices to be heard,” Gillibrand said.