Ag Secretary Tom Vilsack said he’s not waiting around for Congress to reform the H-2A farm guest worker program but is starting his department’s own program.  During February's Ag Outlook Forum, the USDA head said while he’s hopeful that Republicans and Democrats in Congress will try to address the systemic challenges that growers and farm workers face, he said he’s committed to doing everything he can at the Department.  And that includes using existing resources.


“Leveraging resources, again, under the American Rescue Plan, we, in coordination with other federal agencies, are developing a farmworker pilot program to provide support, a set of incentives for agriculture employers to hire H-2A workers from North and Central American countries. Committed as well, to a set of robust labor standards—a goal which I believe all of us share.”


Many Republicans on Capitol Hill remain opposed to immigration reform, arguing border security must come first.  But Vilsack said he’s learned several important lessons over the past three years.


“The pandemic highlighted the challenges of labor instability, the challenges of irregular migration, and the need for increased labor protections. And all of these challenges need to be addressed to increase the resiliency of our food system and supply chain.”


Efforts in D.C., including both a Senate H-2A reform bill and the House’s Farm Workforce Modernization Act, failed to gain traction.


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