Center for American Progress

RELEASE: The US Must Protect Farmworkers from Coronavirus To Secure the Food Supply
Press Release

RELEASE: The US Must Protect Farmworkers from Coronavirus To Secure the Food Supply

Washington, D.C. — Following the closure of several meat processing plants due to coronavirus, a new analysis from the Center for American Progress looks at the health risks that many low-wage farmworkers face and makes the case that protecting their health and safety is essential to protecting the nation’s food supply.

The analysis finds that farmworkers are particularly vulnerable to illness because of high rates of job-related respiratory disease, low rates of health insurance coverage, and often substandard living and working conditions. Despite these risk factors, agricultural workers—the majority of whom are immigrants and about half of whom are undocumented—lack many of the legal protections enjoyed by most workers, endangering their own and their families’ health and well-being.

If one worker at an agricultural site is forced to work while ill or is unable to access testing or care, employers risk infecting their entire workforce, which could completely shut down their operations, as we’ve already seen in several meat processing plants. Large numbers of farmworkers contracting the coronavirus, could have a potentially devastating effect on food production.

CAP recommends that lawmakers act immediately to protect the health and safety of the nation’s farmworkers and food supply:

  • All farmworkers need access to free testing and treatment for COVID-19, regardless of immigration status.
  • Stricter workplace safety standards are needed, much like those in hospitals to protect health care workers.
  • DHS should refrain from routine immigration enforcement activities on farms and in processing plants.
  • The Trump administration should use the Defense Production Act to procure PPE during the pandemic.
  • Unemployment insurance must be expanded to cover all farmworkers.
  • Paid leave protections must cover employees of all farming operations, regardless of size.
  • Congress must appropriate additional funds to migrant and seasonal Head Start programs to supply critical childcare.

“Lawmakers must take immediate action to safeguard the farmworkers on the front lines of the pandemic, said Zoe Willingham, research associate for Economic Policy at CAP and co-author of the column. “Our nation’s food supply is at risk if we leave farmworkers vulnerable to contracting the coronavirus.”

“Even before the coronavirus pandemic, farmworkers were the backbone of the nation’s food security, providing sustenance for hundreds of millions of Americans every day,” added Silva Mathema, associate director for policy with the Immigration Policy team at CAP. “But during the current public health crisis, their work is more important than ever, as farmworkers continue to go to work—at great personal risk to themselves—to keep food in stores and on plates.”

Read the column: “Protecting Farmworkers from Coronavirus and Securing the Food Supply” by Zoe Willingham and Silva Mathema

To find the latest CAP resources on the coronavirus, visit our coronavirus resource page.

For more information or to speak with an expert, please contact Ricardo Rauseo at rrauseo@americanprogress.org