House Passes Farm Workforce Modernization Act

Late last week, the House passed the Farm Workforce Modernization Act by a 247-174 vote. The legislation, sponsored by Central Washington’s Dan Newhouse and California’s Zoe Lofgren gives farmworkers in the United States without legal documents a way to gain legal status, as well as reforms the H-2A program and establishes a mandatory, nationwide E-verify system for Ag employment. Newhouse said this legislation benefits farm country in a variety of ways.

“A farmer has to go through three separate federal agencies currently if they want to utilize H-2A, so we’re streamlining that.  One of the big things is now including those employers who offer fulltime work, so dairies will be able to access the H-2A program.  And providing workers an opportunity to get right with the law, I think that’s huge too.  So, it’s hard to say just one thing, I think this accomplishes a lot of good things.”

The legislation now moves on to the Senate. Newhouse said he’s more confident now, than the last time the House passed the Farm Workforce Modernization Act in late 2019, and the Senate did not take up the legislation.

“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,” noted California’s Zoe Lofgren. “Stabilizing the workforce will protect the future of our farms and our food supply. The Farm Workforce Modernization Act accomplishes this by providing a path to legal status for farmworkers and updating and streamlining the H-2A temporary worker visa program while ensuring fair wages and working conditions for all workers. I look forward to working with Senators on both sides of the aisle to get this bipartisan legislation that serves the best interests of our country to the President’s desk.”

“Passage of the Farm Workforce Modernization Act is welcome news in agricultural districts like mine,” said Idaho Congressman Mike Simpson.  “Workforce uncertainty in eastern Idaho hurts both producers and consumers alike, and this bill sets us on the right path towards ending the workforce crisis, stabilizing rural economies, and discouraging illegal border crossings.  Simply put, this bill is good for agriculture, good for Idaho, and good for our country, and I look forward to working with my colleagues in Congress to get it signed into law.”

“As one who was raised on a cattle ranch in Harney County, I know firsthand just how much work must be done by those who work in agriculture,” said Eastern Oregon’s Cliff Bentz.  “I have also spoken with local leaders across our district – including farmers, ranchers, orchardists, and producers; business owners; trade associations; and local governments. After many conversations and careful consideration, I agreed with my constituents that our district would benefit from the reforms this bill makes to the H-2A guest worker program. These reforms are important to ensuring that we have a stable and legal workforce to operate and raise the more than 200 crops produced in our state. In doing so, the bill will also help guard against future illegal immigration through a mandatory, nationwide E-Verify system for all agriculture employment,” said Bentz.

“I am excited to support this bipartisan bill that will address current and future agriculture needs in Washington State and improve job opportunities for farm workers,” said Washington’s Kim Schrier. “Labor plays a crucial role in our country’s agriculture economy because as we all know, crops don’t wait and millions of dollars are at stake. The farmers and orchardists I meet with in the 8th district all say that a stable workforce is critical to their ability to put food on our tables.”

“Farmworkers are vital to the wellbeing of our country and our economy,” says President Joe Biden. “For generations, farmworkers across America, many of whom aren’t in the country legally, have worked countless hours to feed our nation and ensure our communities are healthy and strong.”

“[Thursday’s] bipartisan passage of the Farm Workforce Modernization Act sends a strong message that the time to address agricultural labor reform is now,” said RJ Andrus, National Potato Council’s Vice President of Legislative Affairs. “Last Congress, NPC and our partners throughout the agricultural industry were disheartened when the Senate was unable to move forward on Ag labor reform. We are now focused on keeping the up momentum and are grateful that Senators Crapo and Bennet have committed to working together to introduce a bill in the Senate to ensure growers and workers are provided long-term certainty, security, and competitiveness.”

“We commend Reps. Zoe Lofgren, D-Calif., and Dan Newhouse, R-Wash., for their commitment to this meaningful ag labor reform,” said USApple President and CEO Jim Bair. “The legislation will stabilize the current agricultural workforce by creating a process for them to gain work authorization to continue working in agriculture. It also brings needed modernization and cost containment to the H-2A agricultural guestworker program.”  

“[Thursday’s] vote reconfirms the reality that well-crafted and durable legislation requires the input of thoughtful and pragmatic lawmakers from both parties,” noted Western Growers President & CEO Dave Puglia. We thank the House members who led this effort and all who voted in favor of the Farm Workforce Modernization Act. Next, we urge Senators of both parties to begin their consideration of this legislation in a similar construct, guided by a desire to produce legislation negotiated with both agriculture and labor advocates and supported by Senators of both parties.

“The need for a solution to agriculture’s labor crisis has been widely accepted across party lines. Furthermore, the remedy, which addresses both the existing workforce and the future flow of workers, has been negotiated in painstaking detail and agreed to by advocates representing farmers and farmworkers alike. The Senate never took up this legislation after it passed the House in 2019 and the problem has predictably worsened. Americans want to see Congress work on real problems and real solutions and spend less time in ideological conflict. The Farm Workforce Modernization Act affords the Senate a powerful opportunity to meet that expectation.”

“The Farm Workforce Modernization Act is a mutually beneficial solution that will create a more functional and compassionate farm labor system,” said National Farmers Union President Rob Larew. “For agricultural employers, it will streamline and allow for greater flexibility in the H-2A temporary agricultural worker program, making it simpler to find and hire qualified employees. For workers, it will strengthen protections as well as establish a route to earn legal status through continued agricultural employment. Given its advantages for both parties, we welcome this practical piece of legislation and advise the Senate to quickly follow the House’s lead by taking up the important issue of farm labor reform.”

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