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Newhouse, Lofgren Reintroduce Bill to Improve Agriculture Labor Program

March 3, 2021
Press Release
Farm Workforce Modernization Act will ensure legal, reliable labor for America’s farmers and ranchers

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, Reps. Dan Newhouse (R-WA) and Zoe Lofgren (D-CA) reintroduced the Farm Workforce Modernization Act, which aims to ensure a legal, reliable workforce for America’s farmers and ranchers. The bill, which passed the House of Representatives in the 116th Congress, aims to provide a compromise solution that makes meaningful reforms to the H-2A agricultural guestworker program and creates a first-of-its-kind, merit-based visa program specifically designed for the nation’s agricultural sector.  

“American agriculture is desperately in need of a legal, reliable workforce. The Farm Workforce Modernization Act is a solution – negotiated in good faith by agriculture groups, labor representatives, and Members on both sides of the aisle – that will do just that,” said Rep. Newhouse. “As one of only a few farmers in Congress, I understand the invaluable contributions our producers and farmworkers make to our nation’s unparalleled agriculture industry. Bringing our agriculture labor program into the 21st century is absolutely critical as we work to recover from the impacts of the pandemic and ensure a stable food supply chain in the United States. We must act now to provide certainty to farmers, ranchers, and farmworkers across the country.”

“The men and women who work America’s farms feed the nation.  But many of them do so while living and working in a state of uncertainty and fear, which has only been heightened by the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Rep. Lofgren. “Stabilizing the workforce will protect the future of our farms and our food supply. The Farm Workforce Modernization Act accomplishes this by providing a path to legal status for farmworkers and updating and streamlining the H-2A temporary worker visa program while ensuring fair wages and working conditions for all workers. I look forward to working with my colleagues on both sides of the aisle and in both Houses of Congress to get this bipartisan legislation that serves the best interests of our country to the President’s desk.”

Click here for the full text of the bill.

Click here for a one-pager.

The bill was negotiated over several months with input from farmers, agricultural stakeholders, labor organizations, and farmworker advocates. In December 2019, it became the first agriculture labor reform legislation to pass the House of Representatives since 1986. Since its passage in the House, the bipartisan coalition of Members has been working to strengthen support from agriculture groups and within the U.S. Senate.  

The Farm Workforce Modernization Act has gained strong support from Washington agriculture:

“A reliable workforce is one of the top challenges facing Washington’s apple growers,” said Todd Fryhover, President of the Washington Apple Commission. “The Farm Workforce Modernization Act is a great step forward to finally make progress that will reform our broken agriculture labor programs to benefit farmers and the farmworkers we rely on. We thank Congressman Newhouse for working to ensure that our producers has the stable, legal labor we need to maintain our world-class apple industry.”

“The farmers we represent must have a legal, stable workforce in order to continue to grow and harvest apples, pears, and cherries,” said Mark Powers, President of Northwest Horticultural Council. “This requires reform now, not years in the future. While not perfect, the Farm Workforce Modernization Act takes a critical step forward both in providing a pathway to legalization for current workers that are undocumented and in making much-needed reforms to the H-2A program so that growers may continue to access the workers they need to grow and harvest their crops into the future. We thank Representative Newhouse for his leadership on moving this critical issue forward and encourage the House of Representatives to pass this important bill so that it can be further improved upon in the Senate.”

“Access to a legal, reliable workforce is essential to the success of Washington’s potato industry,” said Chris Voigt, Executive Director of the Washington State Potato Commission. “These reforms are particularly important as our growers and our farm communities continue to recover from the pandemic, and the Farm Workforce Modernization Act is a positive step forward. The Washington State Potato Commission thanks Congressman Newhouse for his continued work to improve agriculture labor laws to benefit potato growers and laborers alike.”

“Agriculture needs a legal and reliable source of labor,” said Ann George, Executive Director of Hop Growers of America. “Currently many hop growers use the H-2A program for temporary agricultural workers. For those growers, the H-2A program is currently the best option for temporary, reliable agricultural labor and yet the system has been plagued by delays, unnecessary bureaucracy, and high costs.  Our organizations support the bipartisan Farm Workforce Modernization Act. Thank you, Congressman Newhouse, for your work on behalf of Washington’s hop growers.”

“Our state’s labor-intensive agriculture depends on the availability of a legal workforce, including for winegrapes. The collaboration behind the Farm Workforce Modernization Act is appreciated as is the work Congressman Newhouse has put into the effort,” said Vicky Scharlau, Executive Director of Washington Winegrowers Association. “For decades, Washington’s winegrape growers have supported reforming our ag labor program. This bill provides much-needed certainty for farmers and for guestworkers”.

“Immigration reform is a critical and immediate need for dairy and all of agriculture,” said Stan Ryan, President and CEO of Darigold, Inc. “That reform needs to include legal protections and a pathway to legal status as well as the ability for dairy to utilize a guest worker program to supplement their workforce when needed. We are grateful to Representative Newhouse for prioritizing this important issue with the reintroduction of the Farm Workforce Modernization Act.”

Background:

Farmers and ranchers across the United States are in desperate need of a high-quality, reliable workforce, and the current H-2A guestworker program is in need of meaningful, bipartisan reform.  The Farm Workforce Modernization Act creates a workforce solution for America’s agriculture industry by providing stability, predictability, and fairness to one of the most critical sectors of our nation’s economy.

The bill will:

  • Establish a program for agricultural workers in the United States to earn legal status through continued agricultural employment and contribution to the U.S. agricultural economy.
  • Reform the H-2A program to provide more flexibility for employers, while ensuring critical protections for workers. The bill focuses on modifications to make the program more responsive and user-friendly for employers and provides access to the program for industries with year-round labor needs.
  • Establish mandatory, nationwide E-Verify system for all agricultural employment with a structured phase-in and guaranteed due process for authorized workers who are incorrectly rejected by the system.

In the 116th Congress, the bill garnered support from over 300 agriculture organizations.