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Richard Blau, GrayRobinson shareholder, Tampa (Photo: Courtesy Photo) Richard Blau, GrayRobinson shareholder, Tampa (Photo: Courtesy Photo)

The recently floated proposal to cut farmworker wages as a means of helping to shore up the nation’s food supply during the COVID-19 pandemic is both misguided and counterproductive. Now more than ever, federal, state and local governments need to expand support for the farmworkers who harvest the nation’s food, as well as the truckers who transport those harvests and keep the country’s food distribution system operating.

As if the trade war with China was not burden enough, the COVID-19 pandemic has put new stresses on America’s food production system. Harvesters are trying to prepare for the spring harvest season in many southern states even as they now face growing labor shortages due to coronavirus contagion. Since 2006, the number of H-2A visas has multiplied from less than 50,000 to more than 150,000 today. Guest workers constitute about 10% of the nation’s agricultural workforce, and some experts expect that figure could double. Farmers’ challenges include: streamlining the issuance of enough H-2A (temporary agricultural worker) visas to meet the growing demand for more farm workers; improving access to basic food supplies for migrating farmworkers traveling from harvest to harvest across our nation; and providing farmworkers (both domestic and H2A guest workers) with safe, CDC-compliant working conditions, living quarters where relevant, and access to proper medical care to curb the spread of the disease among harvesters.

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