Congressman Panetta, Colleagues Lead Bipartisan Call on USDA to Prioritize Farmworker Safety Funding

January 11, 2021
Press Release

SALINAS, CA – Today, Representatives Jimmy Panetta (D-Carmel Valley), Jim Costa (CA-16), Salud Carbajal (CA-24), Dan Newhouse (WA-04), Doug LaMalfa (CA-01), and Fred Upton (MI-06) led 70 colleagues in a bipartisan letter to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) urging them to allocate specific funding to protect our nation’s essential agricultural workers as they work to implement agricultural provisions from H.R.133 – the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2021.

The Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2021 directed the Secretary of Agriculture to use at least $1.5 billion to purchase and distribute agricultural products and to provide grants and loans to protect agricultural workers from COVID-19. On January 4, 2021, the USDA announced its plans to spend $1.5 billion in a fifth round of the Farmers to Families Food Box Program, but the Department has not yet committed to spending additional funds on agricultural worker safety. Consistent with congressional intent, the Members are now urging USDA to implement the language from the recent COVID-19 relief bill and prioritize significant funding for measures that ensure agricultural workers have the protections they need to continue their essential work.

“As the pandemic exploded over the past few months, farmers and farmworkers continued to show up, do their jobs, and put food on our tables,” said Congressman Panetta.  “It continues to be our job in Congress to procure the necessary funding in the pandemic relief packages to help protect the health and safety of that agricultural workforce.  That’s why my colleagues and I will continue to work together on a bipartisan basis, not just to secure that funding, but also to ensure that the USDA does its job and uses that funding to keep our agriculture workers safe and our food supply secure.”

“Our agricultural workers risk their health and safety every day to continue to put food on America’s dinner table,” said Costa. “I fought to include stronger worker protections for these essential workers in this bill, and the Trump Administration must act swiftly to defend our agricultural workforce from the daily threats of this virus.”

“My father was a farmworker, so I know the hard work that goes into putting food on the table for our families. Growers, ranchers, and vintners in my district want to protect their essential workers from the virus, but they need our help,” said Rep. Carbajal. “Agriculture workers are at an elevated risk of contracting COVID-19, which is why I worked hard to ensure they are protected in the latest COVID-19 relief package. I urge the Agriculture Secretary to move quickly to protect our workers, food supply chain, and public health from COVID-19.”

“Central Washington’s agricultural community was hit hard by COVID-19,” said Rep. Newhouse. “Our farmers and ranchers have been working around the clock to protect their employees from this virus, but they need help. Agriculture workers are essential – to our communities, to keeping food on our tables, to ensuring a strong food supply chain throughout our country. I worked to include federal funding that will help keep these hardworking men and women safe and healthy, and now we must deliver.”

“Throughout the outbreak of the virus, farmers and ranchers never stopped working to keep food on our tables. They rapidly implemented new safety measures to protect themselves and their employees from COVID-19. Congress included aid to help them cover these additional costs, and it is important to get this funding into their hands quickly, so they can continue to feed the country and the world. America’s domestically grown food supply is key to our national security,” said Congressman LaMalfa.

“Southwest Michigan’s agriculture community literally helps feed the world,” said Rep. Upton. “But they have been especially vulnerable to the COVID-19 pandemic. We must ensure we’re doing everything we can to protect our farmers, growers, and producers who continue to work around the clock to help families keep food on our tables.”

Additional Cosigners of the letter include Representatives Alma S. Adams, Ph.D., Nanette Diaz Barragán, Karen Bass, Cliff Bentz, Ami Bera, Earl Blumenauer, Julia Brownley, Tony Cárdenas, Cheri Bustos, Joaquin Castro, Judy Chu, David N. Cicilline, Ben Cline, Tom Cole, Angie Craig, Henry Cuellar, Danny K. Davis, Suzan DelBene, Antonio Delgado, Veronica Escobar, Adriano Espaillat, Brian Fitzpatrick, Ruben Gallego, John Garamendi, Sylvia R. Garcia, Jesús G. “Chuy” García, Vicente Gonzalez, Raul Grijalva, Josh Harder, Alcee L. Hastings, Jahana Hayes, Bill Huizenga, Pramila Jayapal, David P. Joyce, Marcy Kaptur, John Katko, Derek Kilmer, Doris Matsui, Ro Khanna, Ann McLane Kuster, Barbara Lee, Zoe Lofgren, Eleanor Holmes Norton, Chellie Pingree, James P. McGovern, Cathy McMorris Rodgers, Jerry McNerney, Raul Ruiz, M.D., Lisa Blunt Rochester, Lucille Roybal-Allard, Tim Ryan, Gregorio Kilili Camacho Sablan, Linda T. Sánchez, Jan Schakowsky, Kurt Schrader, Kim Schrier, M.D., Mike Simpson, Darren Soto, Abigail D. Spanberger, Jackie Speier, Steve Stivers, Mike Thompson, Norma J. Torres, David G. Valadao (Representative-elect), Juan Vargas, Filemon Vela, Nydia Velázquez, Randy K. Weber, Peter Welch, and Robert J. Wittman.


Read the full text of the letter here or below:

Dear Secretary Perdue:

As you work to continue implementing the agriculture-related provisions in H.R. 133, the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2021, we ask that you quickly commit to allocating funding to protect our nation’s essential agricultural workers.  Specifically, we ask that you prioritize funds for measures that will protect our agricultural communities and workers against the coronavirus disease from funds provided by H.R 133 or from other available sources.

Since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, frontline agricultural workers have labored every day to put food on America’s dinner table and maintain a secure, stable food supply.  At the same time, due to their living conditions and the nature of their work, many of these workers and their family members have been disproportionately impacted by the virus and remain uniquely susceptible to COVID-19.  As the virus continues to threaten the resiliency of our food supply chains, it has never been more critical to ensure the well-being of our agricultural producers and workforce.

H.R. 133 directs the Secretary of Agriculture to use at least $1.5 billion for two main purposes: to purchase and distribute agricultural products and to provide grants and loans to agricultural employers or other organizations for the purpose of protecting workers from COVID-19.  On January 4, 2021, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced its plans to implement the first component of this language through $1.5 billion in a fifth round of the Farmers to Families Food Box program.

Consistent with congressional intent, we now urge USDA to commit to swiftly implement the second component of this language and prioritize significant funding for efforts to support agricultural worker safety.

Over the past several months, Members of Congress worked in a bipartisan, bicameral fashion to secure language in H.R. 133 that explicitly directs USDA to fund measures that protect agricultural workers from COVID-19.  Now that this bill has been signed into law, and as the pandemic continues to ravage agricultural communities across the nation, we look to USDA to act quickly to support our agricultural communities and the workforce.  We ask that USDA also work across all relevant Federal agencies to utilize H.R. 133 and any other available means to ensure agricultural workers have the protections they need to continue their essential work.  We stand ready to work with you throughout this process.