Congressman Panetta Leads Call for White House Coronavirus Task Force to Support Farmers and Farmworkers During the Ongoing 2020 Wildfire Season

August 25, 2020
Press Release

WASHINGTON, DC – Today, Congressman Jimmy Panetta (D-CA-20) and Congressman Doug LaMalfa (R-CA-01) led their California colleagues in sending a bipartisan letter to Vice President Mike Pence, as head of the White House Coronavirus Task Force, requesting immediate assistance in securing N-95 masks for farmers and farmworkers impacted by extreme heat and wildfire smoke.

“Many of the counties across California currently experiencing extreme heat and unhealthy air quality are also producing many of the agricultural products that continue to feed our nation during this bruising pandemic. . . The combination of the COVID-19 pandemic and the 2020 wildfire season warrants our request for the Task Force to work with relevant state and federal agencies to ensure America’s farmers and farmworkers have priority access to the protective gear they need to do their essential work, including N-95 or equivalent facial masks,” the letter states.

“The Central Coast agriculture community currently is enduring extreme heat and wildfires that are exacerbating the many challenges already posed by the COVID-19 pandemic.  Our farmers and farmworkers, however, continue to do what they do best by pivoting and persevering to put nutritious food on our tables.  Unfortunately, those essential workers are uniquely vulnerable to heat, smoke, and COVID-19,” said Congressman Panetta.  “That’s why we must take every step possible to protect those workers and provide them with the necessary protective gear, including N-95 masks, so they can continue to produce amazing agriculture.”

“Our nation’s farmers and farmworkers are working around the clock to keep food on Americans’ tables. In California, they are having to do so in conditions with significant wildfire smoke exposure, risking their health for our food supply. Given the ongoing pandemic, securing N-95 masks has been near impossible for employers. The White House Coronavirus Task Force should prioritize our farmers and farmworkers by ensuring they have the protective gear they need to do their essential work securing a food supply for all Americans,” said Congressman LaMalfa.

The letter was signed by Representatives Mark Takano (CA-41), Mike Thompson (CA-5), Barbara Lee (CA-13), Tony Cárdenas (CA-29), Salud Carbajal (CA-24), Josh Harder (CA-10), Gilbert R. Cisneros, Jr. (CA-29), John Garamendi (CA-3), Doris Matsui (CA-6), Juan Vargas (CA-51), Jerry McNerney (CA-9), TJ Cox (CA-21), Nanette Diaz Barragán (CA-44), Julia Brownley (CA-26), Judy Chu (CA-27), Jim Costa (CA-16), Jared Huffman (CA-2), Maxine Waters (CA-43), Ami Bera (CA-7), Ted Lieu (CA-33), Mark DeSaulnier (CA-11), Lucille Roybal-Allard (CA-40), and Susan A. Davis (CA-53).

Read the full letter here or below:

August 25, 2020

Vice President Michael R. Pence

The White House

1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW

Washington, D.C. 20500

 

Dear Vice President Pence:

As our nation progresses deeper into the 2020 wildfire season while grappling with the COVID-19 pandemic, we write to you in your capacity as head of the White House Coronavirus Task Force (Task Force) to immediately address the safety needs of American farmers and farmworkers.  We ask the Task Force to assist agricultural stakeholders, along with state and local governments, with the timely procurement of safety equipment, including N-95 masks.  Such essential equipment will help protect those who continue to produce our agricultural products and contribute so much to our nation’s food security.  

In the past week, a heat wave has brought extreme temperatures to almost every corner of California.  Temperatures reached 107 degrees in Santa Cruz, California, known for its moderate climate, and Death Valley broke records when it reached 130 degrees.  Exposure to that type of heat can result in heat-related illnesses, ranging from exhaustion to more serious symptoms like stroke and organ damage.  At the same time, excessive heat dries the landscape, making it more susceptible to fire.  To date in 2020, 1,034 wildfires have burned 381,000 acres of National Forest System lands in California, and 7,330 wildfires have burned 1.1 million acres across all jurisdictions.  Smoke from these wildfires contains chemicals, gasses, and fine particles that also can harm human health.

In the state of California, emergency regulations stipulate that, in workplace settings with significant wildfire smoke exposure, when the current Air Quality Index (AQI) for PM2.5 particulate is 151 or greater, employers must provide proper respiratory protection equipment to their employees, including N-95 masks, or equivalent masks that filter out fine particles from the smoke.  On the central coast of California with its current heat and numerous wildfires, the AQI has already surpassed this threshold, hovering within the “hazardous” range of PM2.5 particulate between 301-500.  With hot, dry weather continuing to trigger fires across the state, additional agricultural regions are likely to face this same threat.  Unfortunately, agricultural producers are struggling to procure the necessary masks, given limited supplies and backlogs at the national level.

Many of the counties across California currently experiencing extreme heat and unhealthy air quality are also producing many of the agricultural products that continue to feed our nation during this bruising pandemic.  The necessary and continued work by our farmers and farmworkers allows us to have nutritious food on our tables during this difficult period.  At the same time, these essential workers are uniquely vulnerable to COVID-19 because of their working and living conditions.  Along with the added challenges of wildfire smoke and heat stress, every action must be taken to put protections in place to ensure the safety of our farmers, farmworkers, and our food supply.

The combination of the COVID-19 pandemic and the 2020 wildfire season warrants our request for the Task Force to work with relevant state and federal agencies to ensure America’s farmers and farmworkers have priority access to the protective gear they need to do their essential work, including N-95 or equivalent facial masks.  We also encourage you to work with the same partners to provide additional resources to the agricultural workforce—assisting with the work California has done to prevent heat stress including increasing water, compensated breaks, and cooling stations.

Thank you for your timely consideration of this request.  Your commitment to our nation’s agriculture industry mandates that we continue to work together to provide protective equipment to its essential workforce.  We look forward to working with you and the Task Force to ensure farmers and their employees have the protections they need to keep our nation food secure.

 

Sincerely, 

 

Jimmy Panetta                                                                        Doug LaMalfa

Member of Congress                                                              Member of Congress

 

 

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Mark Takano                                                                          Mike Thompson

Member of Congress                                                              Member of Congress

 

 

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Barbara Lee                                                                            Tony Cárdenas

Member of Congress                                                              Member of Congress

 

 

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Salud Carbajal                                                                        Josh Harder

Member of Congress                                                              Member of Congress

 

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Gilbert R. Cisneros, Jr.                                                           John Garamendi

Member of Congress                                                              Member of Congress

 

 

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Doris Matsui                                                                           Juan Vargas

Member of Congress                                                              Member of Congress

 

 

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Jerry McNerney                                                                      TJ Cox

Member of Congress                                                              Member of Congress

 

 

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Nanette Diaz Barragán                                                           Julia Brownley

Member of Congress                                                              Member of Congress

 

 

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Judy Chu                                                                                 Jim Costa

Member of Congress                                                              Member of Congress

 

 

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Jared Huffman                                                                        Maxine Waters

Member of Congress                                                              Member of Congress

 

 

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Ami Bera                                                                                Ted Lieu

Member of Congress                                                              Member of Congress

 

 

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Mark DeSaulnier                                                                    Lucille Roybal-Allard

Member of Congress                                                              Member of Congress

 

 

/s/

Susan A. Davis

Member of Congress