Legislation aims to help farmworkers hit hard by pandemic

California Connection

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (KTXL) — A package of bills designed to help California’s farmworkers deal with the COVID-19 pandemic is moving to the state Senate after gaining bipartisan support in the state Assembly.

With just three weeks left in the legislative session, lawmakers representing agricultural districts were concerned that outbreaks of the virus continue to plague agricultural workers.

“Reports of outbreaks linked to farms, packing sheds, meat packing plants across our state here in California,” said Assemblyman Robert Rivas, D-Hollister.

Among the state’s essential workers, farmworkers have higher rates of infection and death. They often carpool to job sites or are transported by bus.

And because of low wages, they share housing, with several families often living in one household. That impacts not only farmworkers but the communities in which they live.

“Deplorable housing conditions have allowed for the rapid spread of this virus, impacting families and our ability to control outbreaks of the coronavirus,” Rivas told FOX40.

The package of bills includes requiring the California Division of Occupational Safety and Health to undertake an education program that also enforces workplace safety. It must also give information about paid sick leave and unemployment services, as well as track complaints by agricultural workers.

Another bill increases telehealth services in rural communities. Surveys show that farmworkers don’t seek medical and other services because they can’t afford not to work.

“They are less likely to access then out of fear of retribution from their employer or because of their immigration status,” Rivas said.

One bill requires state entities, including schools, to purchase produce grown in California to bolster agricultural jobs lost to the economic slowdown.

It also addresses the toughest problem: a call to increase the farmworker housing tax credit, which creates an incentive for developers to build affordable housing.

For backers of the bills, they are a chance to correct long-standing shortcomings to a group that is vital to the state’s $50 billion agriculture industry.

“That for many years that has been challenged with access to health care, with good affordable housing,” explained Assemblyman Eduardo Garcia, D-Coachella.

If the bills gain Senate approval and are signed by the governor, they would take effect at the beginning of next year. The exception is the Cal/OSHA farmworker health measure, which is an urgency bill that takes effect as soon as it’s signed.

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