Does the Farm Workforce Modernization Act Have a Future?

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After the House of Representatives’ historic passage of a farm labor bill last December, is there a path forward? Maybe…

Over the course of the past year, AmericanHort has stayed in close touch with key Senate allies, keeping them apprised of the House negotiations. In December, as the House was preparing to vote, we and coalition allies stepped up Senate meetings.

As the new year and new decade get underway, we are cautiously hopeful that a bipartisan group of Senators will get down to business and craft their own expression of policy on farm labor. While it would be easier to simply take up the House bill (and Senate Democrats would prefer that approach), the Republican majority isn’t likely to do that. Rather, they will work on a Senate bill that we hope gains a little ground on the handful of areas where H.R.5038, the House version, could really use some improvement.

Finding a path forward through the thick underbrush of an election year won’t be easy. However, there may be catalysts that create openings for legislative action sometime between now and December 31. For instance, we expect a Supreme Court ruling in June that may determine the fate of the DACA program; a decision that allows DACA to be ended will create a crisis for hundreds of thousands of young people whose plight has broad public sympathy and support for a resolution. Legislators may see the wisdom of resolving DACA and the agricultural crisis together.

Meanwhile, the new H-2A “adverse effect wage rates” (AEWRs) took effect January 2. The national average increase was 5.6 percent; Illinois, Indiana and Ohio saw the largest increase, at 9.5%. The Farm Workforce Modernization Act would have frozen the 2019 level for a year, and capped future increases at 3.25 percent for most states, and not more than 4.25 percent in any state.

Keep an eye out to calls for action on the ag workforce issue as Senate negotiations get underway.

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