USA SENATE

From the Desk of the Executive Director

After a late start caused by the delayed completion of the fiscal year 2017 spending process, congressional appropriators have begun moving fiscal year 2018 funding bills, including the Labor-HHS-Education measure that covers the National Farmworker Jobs Program (NFJP).  The House version of the bill would cut NFJP by roughly $10 million to $72 million from the fiscal year 2017 level-funded amount of $82 million.  Approved by subcommittee, the measure awaits full Appropriations Committee consideration.  The Senate has not yet released its fiscal year 2018 legislation.  The president earlier this year recommended to Congress that it terminate NFJP entirely.

Looking at the big picture, the House recently passed a fiscal year 2018 “minibus” appropriations measure that includes $658 billion for national defense, though the topline exceeds the spending cap set by the 2011 Budget Control Act by $72 billion.The bill would fund the Defense Department’s base budget at $584 billion and its Overseas Contingency Operations account at $74 billion. The base budget funding is $68 billion above what was enacted in fiscal year 2017 and $18 billion more than what the Trump Administration sought for fiscal year 2018.

The Senate Appropriations Committee announced recently, however, that it is writing a defense spending bill that, unlike the House version, adheres to the BCA in the hopes of hashing out a bipartisan deal to raise the caps.  Such an agreement, like past agreements, could provide much-needed cap relief for non-defense discretionary program funding.  Should that occur, NFJP will be in a much stronger position to win the appropriations it needs to continue providing the nation’s struggling agricultural workers the hand up they need to help themselves going forward.

The one thing that shouldn’t go missing in the story of food

The one thing that shouldn’t go missing in the story of food
By: Kathleen Nelson, Director of Workforce Development

I’m currently blessed with a very inquisitive four-and-a-half-year-old spitfire full of questions about the world.  This year in his preschool class, the children spent the autumn learning about food and nutrition. They learned about healthy eating, and what kinds of foods are ‘anytime foods’ like fruits and vegetables and what kinds of foods should be eaten ‘only once in a while’ like cookies and cakes.  (That lesson may have only slightly taken—“Once in a while means once every day after dinner, right?” he sweetly asks.)  They visited supermarkets, gardens, and a farm, and they talked about how fruits and veggies are grown, where their cheeseburgers come from, and what goes into their bread – and what happens when that food goes into their bodies.  They’re developing critical thinking skills, (“Mommy, do you need glasses because you never ate enough carrots?”) and asking great questions.

Crucially, my son learned that farmers grow and pick our food.  Then, trains and trucks bring the food to markets and grocers where we can buy it.  While this simplified narrative about our food was mostly perfect for his preschool class, we must make sure that our farmworkers aren’t missing from the story we tell ourselves and our children.  The vital role farmworkers play in our nation’s harvests, nourishing our bodies and the economy, should be honored and celebrated.  It’s also critical that we don’t allow these workers to be left in the dark.  Without visibility, this community of people is vulnerable to exploitation that would never be allowed to stand in any other industry — there are children working in the field, there’s exposure to dangerous pesticides and chemicals, and the workers all too often earn unfair wages.

National Farmworker Awareness week is a great time to start a conversation with your family over the dinner table or on the way to school.  I’m happy to report that my own little guy doesn’t leave this vital community out of the story anymore — what about your family?