The U.S. House of Representatives passed the Farm Workforce Modernization Act with bipartisan support on March 18.
Originally introduced and approved by the House in 2019, the compromise bill offers a path to legal status for farmworkers and updates to the H-2A temporary worker program to streamline the paperwork and recruiting process, reduce housing costs, and protect against sudden wage increases.
Washington Republican Rep. Dan Newhouse and California Democratic Rep. Zoe Lofrgen were the primary sponsors of the bill, which passed 247–174. The 30 Republicans who joined Democrats to support the bill represent agricultural regions.
“Today’s passage marks an important step forward for farmers, ranchers and farmworkers. I look forward to working with my colleagues in the Senate to get it to the President’s desk and deliver historic and meaningful reforms for American agriculture,” Newhouse said in a statement.
Lofgren said the experience of the COVID-19 pandemic shows how important, and at risk, the agricultural workforce is.
“Stabilizing the workforce will protect the future of our farms and our food supply,” she said in a statement. “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.”
The legislation never made it to the Senate after its passage by the House in December 2019. But it could be different this time: In a press release on March 18, Sen. Mike Crapo, a Republican from Idaho, said he plans to include a companion bill in the Senate with Sen. Michael Bennet, a Democrat from Colorado. President Joe Biden also issued a statement in support of the bill.
—by Kate Prengaman