A bipartisan group of federal lawmakers has floated a late-season bill that would attempt to do many of the same things as the Farm Workforce Modernization Act that has passed the House twice in four years but never made it to the Senate floor.
On Dec. 15, U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet of Colorado, a Democrat, teamed up with U.S. Reps. Dan Newhouse (R-Washington), Salud Carbajal (D-California) and David Valadao (R-California) and agricultural employer groups and labor advocates to introduce the Affordable and Secure Food Act, or ASFA, according to a news release from the senator.
“In the past year, grocery prices are up almost 12 percent, faster than any time in the last 40 years,” Bennet said in a news conference. “You can draw a straight line from these higher prices to the crisis of farm labor.”
ASFA would reform the H-2A program by expanding visas to year-round jobs, modernize the application process, create more wage certainty and ensure critical protections for farmworkers. Among the supporters are the U.S. Apple Association, Western Growers and United Farm Workers.
The goals of the bill are similar to those of the Farm Workforce Modernization Act, passed by the U.S. House of Representatives in 2019 and 2021.
Supporters urged senators to take action on ASFA before the end of this year.
The bill would:
—Establish a program for agricultural workers and their families to earn legal status, including a Green Card residency visa after 10 years of agricultural work.
—Provide H-2A visas for year-round jobs and modernize the H-2A application process.
—Freeze Adverse Effect Wage Rate increases at the 2022 level for one year, cap future increases at 3 percent and limit decreases.
—Implement a mandatory, nationwide electronic verification system for all agricultural employment.
Time is critical for the bill, said Kate Tynan, senior vice president of the Northwest Horticultural Council in Yakima, Washington. If it does not pass before the end of the year, supporters must start over in the House Judiciary Committee, which does not consider the bill a priority, she said.
Tynan estimates it would take at least two years to re-introduce the bill.
Proponents aim to attach ASFA to another bill Congress likely will act on by the end of the year, such as the federal spending bill, Tynan said. The council staff is working to build support for the bill in the Senate.