Adverse Effect Wage Rates out of Vilsack’s hands

The U.S. Agriculture Secretary says his agency’s ability to address concerns with mandatory wage increases in the H-2A guestworker program is limited.

Michigan Congresswoman Elissa Slotkin pressed Tom Vilsack for additional action to protect small farms from price hikes they can’t afford during Wednesday’s House Ag Committee hearing.

“Are you sure there is not a special authority that you have for waivers or to do something more on this issue? Have you looked at every legal possibility?” she questioned.  “I have,” Vilsack countered.

Vilsack pointed to the Farm Labor Stabilization Pilot and its $65 million in American Rescue Plan funds as a way USDA is helping to offset farmworker costs and challenges.

“But that program is closed, right? There’s not a relief program for current small farmers,” Slotkin replied.

“We don’t have anything available as you suggested,” Vilsack responded.

“OK. It’s just hard as someone who is in the executive branch and a national security person to understand that there’s literally no special authority to make very rare decisions—for the Secretary of Agriculture, the Secretary of Labor, all these folks—you can understand how farmers feel,” Slotkin stressed.

Vilsack said Congress also failed to pass a solution for farmers by not passing the Farm Workforce Modernization Act which would have provided a freeze in wage increases.

“And you all had the ability to get this solved,” Vilsack said. “And farmers had the ability to get this solved by supporting the Farm Worker Modernization Act, which would have capped the level. But it didn’t get through. Why didn’t it get through? Politics.”

The Farm Workforce Modernization Act, which Slotkin co-sponsored, passed the House with bipartisan support but failed in the Senate during the previous two sessions.  It has yet to be reintroduced this year.

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