Newhouse calls for more help for farmworkers

For the Basin Business Journal | February 6, 2021 1:00 AM

WASHINGTON, D.C. — A bipartisan group of 70 lawmakers, including Rep. Dan Newhouse, R-Wash., are calling on U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary Sonny Purdue to use $1.5 billion recently approved by Congress in the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2021 to help protect farmworkers.

“Central Washington’s agricultural community was hit hard by COVID-19,” Newhouse said in a joint press release. “Our farmers and ranchers have been working around the clock to protect their employees from this virus, but they need help.”

Agriculture workers are essential – to our communities, to keeping food on our tables, to ensuring a strong food supply chain throughout our country,” Newhouse added. “I worked to include federal funding that will help keep these hardworking men and women safe and healthy, and now we must deliver.”

Letter authors are calling on Purdue to not only provide food aid to farmworker families but also use some of the money to help improve and secure farmworker living conditions.

“Due to their living conditions and the nature of their work, many of these workers and their family members have been disproportionately impacted by the virus and remain uniquely susceptible to COVID-19,” letter authors wrote. “As the virus continues to threaten the resiliency of our food supply chains, it has never been more critical to ensure the well-being of our agricultural producers and workforce.”

Newhouse was joined by Jimmy Panette, D-Calif., Jim Acosta, D-Calif., Doug LaMalfa, R-Calif., Salud Carbajal, D-Calif., and Fred Upton, R-Mich., in the letter to Purdue.

The $2.3 trillion act, which funds the U.S. government through September, as well as commits $900 billion in COVID-19 relief, also keeps the federal government running through the end of September, 2021. The act directs the USDA secretary to use at least $1.5 billion to “to purchase and distribute agricultural products and to provide grants and loans to protect agricultural workers from COVID-19.”

On Jan. 4, the USDA announced it would use at least a portion of the funds to purchase another round of food aid for farm families as part of the Farmers to Families Food Box Program.

USDA has already distributed 133 million food boxes in 2020, according to the Agricultural Marketing Service, which administers the program.

Charles H. Featherstone can be reached at