Affordable and Secure Food Act Introduced in Senate

Josh McGill Labor, Legislative

Update as of Dec. 22, 2022:

The current 2023 Omnibus Appropriations bill does not include the Affordable and Secure Food Act. Bill sponsors and farm groups had urged its inclusion. 

“Congress has once again failed to deliver the reforms that the fresh produce industry and its agricultural allies have long fought for. International Fresh Produce Association (IFPA) did its part to reach an agreement with advocates for our workers and garnered bipartisan support for compromise legislation. Additionally, IFPA joined with hundreds of agriculture organizations actively supporting the bill and pushing Senate leadership to bring up the Affordable and Secure Food Act,” said IFPA’s Chief Policy Officer Robert Guenther in a press release.

“Congress missed a huge opportunity and did not do their part to improve production and increase the legal supply of labor. Because of this inaction, consumers will continue to see record prices at the grocery store, producers will continue to face unaffordable, unpredictable input costs from out-of-control wage hikes, and we will continue down the path to being a nation that is increasingly food insecure. We implore the Senate to not walk away from this effort before they adjourn,” said Guenther.

The Florida Fruit & Vegetable Association (FFVA) supports the bill introduced in the Senate on Dec. 15, titled the Affordable and Secure Food Act of 2022 (ASFA). The bill, introduced by Sen. Michael Bennet, is similar to the Farm Workforce Modernization Act that was passed in the House of Representatives in 2021.

The new legislation would help curb the increasing labor costs citrus growers are facing.

The ASFA would create a path to legal status for undocumented farm workers and freeze the adverse effect wage rate (AEWR) at the 2022 rates for one year and cap future increases by 3%. The bill would also:

  • Establish a program for agriculture workers, along with their spouses and minor children, to earn legal status. Farm workers in the program may earn a path to a green card after 10 years of agriculture work.
  • Reform the H-2A Temporary Agricultural Worker program by providing H-2A visas for year-round jobs for the first time, modernizing the application process, creating more wage certainty and ensuring critical protections for H-2A farm workers. 
  • Establish a mandatory, nationwide electronic verification system for all agricultural employment, with high standards for privacy and accuracy. 
  • Lower the cost of and increase access to farm workers and rural housing.

Specialty crop groups in the Southeast have longed for some type of legislation that would help control the wage rates that are spiraling out of control.

Just announced following the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Farm Labor Survey, the adverse AEWR for Georgia’s specialty crop producers would increase from $11.99 per hour in 2022 to $13.68 per hour in 2023. Florida’s new AEWR was projected to climb to $14.33. That would be up from $12.41 just a year ago. That increase more than doubled the total average for AEWR increases across the United States. It also puts Florida facing the largest increase of any area.

“The FFVA is supportive of the bill for the wage relief it would provide, pre-empting the 2023 AEWR increases of 15.5%,” the association announced.

The bill still needs to be approved by Congress.

Source: FFVA

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