A Small Act of Kindness Can Save A Farmworker’s Life

By: Melanie Forti, Director of Health & Safety Programs

Our lives are so busy now days that we forget to sit back, think, and be grateful for those hard working hands that harvest our food. Unfortunately, agricultural workers are one of the most forgotten and unacknowledged workers in the United States.  Every day over 2.5 million farmworkers harvests our nation food, but in order to do so they face many challenges – from health-related issues, poor living conditions,  and sexual abuse to wage theft, and limited access to health & human services.

Farmworkers put their health at risk each day by being exposed to toxic chemicals and working in oppressive weather conditions. Due to the vigorous physical labor, pesticide exposure, and dangerous equipment, agricultural workers rank among the three most hazardous jobs in the U.S. In addition, farmworkers are at great risk of respiratory and dermatological illnesses, dehydration, heat-related illnesses, accidents with dire physical impact, as well as chronic muscular-skeletal pain.

Thanks to their hard work, we are able to have food on our tables, when sometimes they cannot afford to. During the National Farmworker Awareness Week, we can all do a small act of kindness by donating a long-sleeve shirt that will help agricultural workers mitigate exposure to pesticides and reduce the risk of suffering from a heat-related illness.

This year, AFOP’s Health & Safety Programs is holding a National Long-Sleeve Shirt Drive with over fifty drop-off locations nationwide from March 26 – April 2nd. To learn more about this event and where to drop your spare shirt please visit: http://afop.org/health-safety/nfaw/ or contact AFOP’s Health & Safety Programs Director, Melanie Forti at forti@afop.org.

The donated long-sleeve shirts will be distributed among the farmworker community during pesticide safety trainings, heat stress prevention trainings, health fairs, clinics, and in non-profit organizations.

Once National Farmworker Awareness Week has ended, let’s not forget those that harvest our nation’s food. Happy #NFAW2016 #GotFoodThankAFarmworker

17th Annual National Farmworker Awareness Week

Washington, DC Each year, it is estimated that over 1 billion pounds of pesticides are applied to farms, forests, lawns, parks and golf courses in the United States.

With eighty percent of all U.S. pesticide use being in agriculture, farmworkers who pick the fruits and vegetables that end up on tables across America are exposed more than anyone else to the health hazards of pesticides. Annually, the Environmental Protection Agency estimates that 10,000–20,000 doctor diagnosed pesticide poisonings occur among the approximate 2 million U.S. agricultural workers. Pesticide applicators, farmers, farm workers, and communities near farms are often most at risk.

“Over 90% of all pesticide exposures are through the skin and may result in increased rates of Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, various cancers and birth defects, among others” says Melanie Forti, Director, Health & Safety Programs at the Association of Farmworker Opportunity Programs (AFOP).  Forti continues, “as simple as it sounds, a long sleeve shirt can help mitigate a farm worker’s skin from pesticide exposure, and help prevent heat-related illnesses.”

During National Farmworker Awareness Week, AFOP’s Health & Safety Programs is sponsoring its Third Annual National Long Sleeve Shirt Drive, March 26–April 2. The goal is to collect over 2,000 long sleeve shirts nationwide. (During the 2015 National Farmworker Awareness Week, 7,505 new and gently used shirts were donated.)  This year, nineteen states, including Puerto Rico and Washington, D.C. are participating in this campaign.

To help protect farmworker health, long sleeve shirts will be distributed to workers at pesticide safety and heat stress prevention trainings conducted by AFOP’s Health & Safety trainers throughout the coming year.

There is always a need and plenty of ways to get involved. To find out more about farm workers and some of the health issues they face while working in the fields, or to find a long sleeve donation location, please visit www.afop.org.

“Individuals come together to help one another and by doing so realize they have more commonalities than differences creating stronger ties and healthier communities; ultimately equality is what we’re promoting” states Vashti Kelly, Program Manager, Health & Safety Programs at AFOP.

The Association of Farmworker Opportunity Programs is a non-profit, national federation of 52 non-profit and public agencies that provide training and employment services to migrant and seasonal farm workers. Our mission is to improve the quality of life for all farmworkers and their families through advocacy, education, and training. For additional comment or an interview, please contact Melanie Forti, Director of Health & Safety Programs at 202.828-6006 ext. 107 or forti@afop.org .

Contact:  Amber James
Tel. 202.384.1767
Email: james@afop.org

From the Desk of the Executive Director

Although the year has hardly begun, the script seems already written for a difficult year for the budget and subsequent appropriations bills.  If so, we can likely expect lawmakers to resort this fall to some form of a continuing resolution (CR) and/or a post-election omnibus spending package to complete the final business of the 114th Congress.

Washington calls each presidential election year the “silly season” for good reason.  It is a time when serious legislating slows as elected officials seek to make political statements at the expense of compromise in an attempt to help their own election chances and/or that of their political party’s nominee for president.

At the outset of the silly season, things looked to be rather less silly and more much substantive.  New House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wisconsin) and his budget and appropriations leaders all said they would return House processes to “regular order,” in which legislation moves from subcommittee to full committee and to the House floor for open consideration of amendments and passage.  New Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky) echoed that sentiment.  With that commitment in hand, the House and Senate Budget Committees began the process by drafting Congress’s spending blue print for the upcoming fiscal year 2017, set to begin October 1, 2016.

This optimism was understandable.  After all, Congress and the White House late last year agreed to a plan setting higher defense and non-defense spending limits for this year and next, partially offset by certain program cuts.

Trouble for leadership started in January, however, when House conservatives, the so-called “Freedom Caucus,” said they want an extra $30 billion in cuts to non-defense funding.  As a result of that call for cuts, budgeteers have slowed their work to a crawl as leadership decides how to overcome this divide.

Compounding matters is the fact that the Freedom Caucus is also demanding inclusion in the 12 yearly appropriations bills of several legislative riders that Democrats successfully turned back late last year as a part of the spending agreement.  These changes are outside the legislative jurisdiction of the House Appropriations Committee, meaning the authorizing committees with jurisdiction will insist that the bills clear their committees, which will delay action.  For their part, House Democrats will be unified in their opposition to these riders, and may attract sufficient Republican support to block the Freedom Caucus.

Thus, it seems likely that final resolution of the fiscal year 17 appropriations bills will occur during a lame duck session following the federal election in November.  Congress will likely adopt a CR sometime in September to continue funding into the new fiscal year until lawmakers can move an omnibus spending bill to fully fund the federal government.

Despite the gloomy outlook for regular order this year, AFOP has written to appropriations leaders in both the House and Senate in support of workforce development, explaining the need for and success of the National Farmworkers Jobs Program.

In addition, AFOP, as a member of the Coalition to Invest in America’s Workforce (CIAW) – a coalition of diverse national organizations dedicated to helping people of all ages and conditions improve their skills, gain employment, and improve the competitiveness of U.S. businesses in today’s rapidly restructuring global economy – wrote last week to the Appropriations Committees urging them to provide the highest possible allocation for the fiscal year 2017 Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies (Labor-HHS) appropriations bill.

In the letter, CIAW argues that, despite recent, modest funding increases, America’s education and workforce programs are still funded below their pre-recession levels.  This has hurt our nation’s workers and businesses.  Restoration of funding is necessary to sustain our economic competitiveness. Without meaningful investments in enhancing the skills of our workforce, skill gaps will stifle job growth and make a full economic recovery impossible.

According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, the Labor-HHS Appropriations Subcommittee received an increase of 3.6 percent for fiscal year 2016 relative to its fiscal year 2015 funding level.  Other subcommittees received an average increase of 6.9 percent.  Accordingly, CIAW urged appropriators to ensure that the fiscal year 2017 allocation for Labor-HHS provides sufficient resources to achieve the following:

  • Fund WIOA Title I employment and training programs at statutorily authorized levels so states, local areas and other partners in the public workforce system can fully realize the bipartisan vision outlined in the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (Opportunity Act).
  • Fund adult education and literacy programs under Title II of the Opportunity Act at least at authorized levels to ensure that the 36 million Americans with low basic skills are able to strengthen their educational levels to take advantage of emerging economic opportunities.
  • Fund sufficiently Wagner/Peyser Employment Services (ES) activities under Title III of the Opportunity Act to give states the resources they need to provide intensive, in-person, reemployment services.
  • Fully fund the Vocational Rehabilitation program and other employment services authorized under the Opportunity Act’s Title IV for adults and students with disabilities.
  • Fund Opportunity Act youth programs to train the next generation of workers so they can become productive citizens, achieve their career goals, and contribute to their local communities.
  • Fund job training and employment services for older workers and veterans authorized through the Older Americans Act and other laws at no less than level funding.
  • Restore funding for the Perkins basic state grant program to pre-sequester levels to support our nation’s high schools, technical centers and community colleges in developing the highly skilled workforce demanded by employers.

You can be certain that AFOP is closely watching all appropriations developments in Washington, D.C. with the goal of seeing lawmakers approve robust funding for NFJP as well as make significant investments in America’s workers’ skills and education, so critical to businesses, workers, and the economy.