USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack says heâ€™s not waiting around for Congress to reform the H-2A farm guest worker program but is starting his departmentâ€™s own program. Vilsack went right to the point on migrant farm labor at last weekâ€™s Ag Outlook Forum, amid a new House GOP majority.
Vilsack; â€œNow, while I hope that our Congressional friends take action to address the systemic challenges that growers and farm workers face, Iâ€™m committed to doing everything we can here at USDA.â€
Using existing resources, Vilsack adds; â€œLeveraging resources, again, under the American Rescue Plan, we, in coordination with other federal agencies, are developing a farmworker pilot program to provide support, a set of incentives for agriculture employers to hire H-2A workers from North and Central American countries. Committed as well, to a set of robust labor standardsâ€”a goal which I believe all of us share.â€
Many Hill Republicans remain opposed to immigration reform, arguing border security must come first. But Vilsack says the pandemic taught key lessons about labor needs.
Vilsack; â€œThe pandemic highlighted the challenges of labor instability, the challenges of irregular migration, and the need for increased labor protections. And all of these challenges need to be addressed to increase the resiliency of our food system and supply chain.â€
Efforts on the Hill, including a Senate H-2A reform bill in December, failed to gain traction. That bill, backed by more than 350 food, farmer, and farmworker groups to provide a year-round migrant farm labor force, attracted no GOP support.