USDA to invest $65M to strengthen food supply chain
The full economic contribution of the food and agriculture industries is estimated to be nearly $7 trillion. The industries account for nearly one-fifth of U.S. economic activity, directly contributing $2.7 trillion to the U.S. gross domestic product and supporting more than 40 million jobs. The key to the success of these industries is millions of farmworkers. The COVID-19 pandemic put a spotlight on the importance of these workers and their contributions to our nation’s food security, and simultaneously highlighted challenges of labor instability, irregular migration, and the need for increased labor protections in order to increase the resiliency of our food system and supply chain.
To address these challenges, the U.S. Department of Agriculture in coordination with the other federal agencies will develop a pilot program utilizing up to $65 million in American Rescue Plan funding to provide support for agricultural employers in implementing robust health and safety standards to promote a safe, healthy work environment for both U.S. workers and workers hired from northern Central American countries under the seasonal H-2A visa program.
The program will aim to improve the resiliency of our food and agricultural supply chain:
- Driving U.S. economic recovery and safeguarding domestic food security by addressing current labor shortages in agriculture. Even before the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, agricultural employers were struggling to secure a stable workforce. The pandemic has only exacerbated this problem, threatening our domestic capacity to produce a safe and robust food supply. This pilot program will help address this shortage by expanding the potential pool of workers.
- Reducing irregular migration through the expansion of legal pathways. The H-2A visa program offers a lawful pathway for individuals from northern Central America to come to the United States to engage in temporary or seasonal agricultural work. An effective H-2A visa program is critical to the resiliency of the food and agricultural supply chain. This pilot program will aim to address challenges that both workers and employers face in utilizing the program.
- Improving working conditions for farmworkers. Strong working conditions are critical to the resiliency of the food and agricultural supply chain. Through this pilot program, USDA will support efforts to improve working conditions for both U.S. and H-2A workers and ensure that H-2A workers are not subjected to unfair recruitment practices.
USDA will provide opportunities for stakeholder engagement as the program is developed. USDA will also partner with the United Farm Workers of America through a technical assistance cooperative agreement to inform USDA of the challenges faced by agricultural workers and to inform development of the pilot program. UFW will work with relevant stakeholders, including farmers, farmworkers, farmworker advocates, and unions, to ensure that the agency benefits from a wide range of views. After the consultation and program development phase, USDA intends to launch a competitive pilot program ahead of the growing season in early 2023.