As Congress sits deadlocked, unable to agree on additional COVID relief measures, several states are taking their own initiative to support their beleaguered workers. Both Pennsylvania and Vermont unveiled programs in the last month to do something the HEROES Act wanted to do but couldn’t pass – provide hazard pay to essential workers on the front lines. Dishing out $50 million (Pennsylvania) and $28 million (Vermont) to workers in industries including healthcare, retail and food processing, the states sent the message that workers who endanger their health and safety on a daily basis to feed and care for other people are valued.
Now, this doesn’t solve the problem – an extra $3 per hour doesn’t take away the hazard. But, the extra cash does provide a salve on some psychological wounds. Also, the additional cash in hand can be useful when it comes to paying doctor bills that many of these workers – often uninsured – will inevitably face.
But where’s the extra cash for farmers? Farmworkers are on the frontlines too. They are doing demanding physical labor for hours on end in the hot, hot sun and sometimes, like in California, while inhaling air chockful of wildfire smoke. All of this they are doing while possibly also being exposed to COVID. However, the hazard pay programs in Vermont and Pennsylvania didn’t include agricultural workers as eligible for hazard pay.
Farmworker advocates in California and also Washington state are pushing hard for hazard pay for the agricultural industry. As one person tweeted about California farmworkers, “As ash rains from the sky, they fill your plates without hazard pay.” With thin profit margins, it’s difficult for farm businesses to be able to pay their workers more even though many would like to do so. Government-funded hazard pay programs that include farm businesses would help fill the gap.