On Thursday at a press conference, ABIC (American Business Coalition Immigration) Action applauded Sen. Michael Bennet (D-CO) for introducing in the Senate the Affordable and Safe Food Act, which would modernize the nation’s farm guest worker H-2A visa program by opening it up to more farmers, including making visas available for year-round work in the dairy industry and other sectors of the agricultural community, putting a down payment on border security with mandatory e-verify and stabilizing wages for farmers and creating legal protections and a pathway to citizenship for undocumented decade-plus farm workers.
“ABIC Action fully endorses this bill and is so grateful to the leadership of Sen. Bennet, as well as Reps. Dan Newhouse (R-WA) and Mike Simpson (R-ID) for their valiant and successful efforts [passing a companion bill, FWMA] in the House,” said ABIC Action executive director Rebecca Shi.
She recounted talking the prior day to a farmer from Kansas who told her he needed the bill because he had 20 workers and the bill would save him $42,108 in the coming year.
The Senate bill is urgently needed. According to Sen. Bennet, who led the press conference, the cost of farm labor has gone up nearly 50 percent in the past decade, much higher than wage costs in other sectors of the economy. “If we don’t give growers certainty, we’re going to see a lot of them go out of business entirely—at the same time we have hundreds of thousands of undocumented workers living in the shadows,” he said. But the truth was, he continued, that “we wouldn’t have an agricultural economy at all if it weren’t for them.”
He continued: “Our current status quo is terrible for workers, growers—and American families, who’ve seen their grocery bills shoot up almost 12 percent faster than any time in the last 40 years. Milk has gone up almost 15 percent, potatoes 16 percent, eggs 49 percent—and you can draw a straight line back from those prices to the crisis in farm labor.”
Bennet noted that his Senate bill would save farmers $23 billion over the next 12 years—and more than $2 billion more than the House version of the bill. It would also act as a down payment on border security because it would require farm employers to submit all potential workers to an e-verify system.
Over the last 14 months, ABIC Action has brought hundreds of farmers and employers from related fields together at more than a dozen events in key farming states, as well as in D.C., urging the Senate to pass a bipartisan companion bill to the House bill. Now, ABIC Action calls on the Senate to get behind Bennet’s bill in this down-to-the-wire lame duck session in Congress.
Early this month, ABIC also released a report showing dramatic wage savings for farmers should the Senate pass legislation mirroring or improving on the House’s already-passed Farm Workforce Modernization Act. The report came as the Department of Labor announced a new 7% – 15.5% spike in wage rates for farm guest workers under the H-2A program that will drive up costs for farmers and American consumers. The new Senate bill would go even further in farmer savings than the House bill, which would freeze H-2A guest worker wages for one year, then cap wages at 3.25%.
“American households took a 9 percent economic dip the past three consecutive quarters, hit by rising inflation and out-of-control food prices,” said Shi at the conference. “That’s why the average American is angry at Congress. Senator Bennet has put forward a solution to cut inflation and secure the border that the Senate should have the courage to pass.”