By Daniel Sheehan
AFOP Executive Director
12 January, 2018

On behalf of the Association of Farmworker Opportunity Programs (AFOP), I would like to wish you and yours a very happy 2018.  Without question, this coming year will be exceedingly consequential, not only for the administration and Congress, but also for the AFOP members and the farmworkers and families they serve.  I have heard that the Chinese character for crisis consists of the character for danger combined with the symbol for opportunity.  Whether that is actually true or not, I cannot say, but it certainly describes AFOP members’ situation to a T.

Immediately out of the chute, Congress is already behind the eight ball for having kicked the proverbial can down the road late last year on several pressing matters, including a budget agreement to raise spending caps, the pending fiscal year 2018 appropriations, extension of the Children Health Insurance Program, and the needed legislative fix to address the administration’s termination of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) policy.  The federal government is running on what is known as a continuing resolution (CR) that extended government funding at fiscal year 2017 levels through January 19, 2018.  Those who believe in good government had hoped that budget negotiators would announce this week a budget deal to raise spending caps to provide appropriators the resources to finish FY18 appropriations.  Regrettably, that has not come to pass, making it very likely that lawmakers will need to move another short-term CR, perhaps through February 16, so negotiations can conclude and an omnibus spending package be cobbled together.  This work directly affects AFOP members and their farmworker clients because funding for the National Farmworker Jobs Program (NFJP) expires June 30, 2018, and the United States Department of Labor (DOL) needs certainty in its budgeting going forward.

We will also see something rather unusual this month here in Washington: a delayed State of the Union address.  After a formal request from the president, congressional leaders agreed to a 10-day delay for the joint session of Congress to January 30.  That change means that the president’s speech will now coincide with the first day of the 2018 AFOP Leadership Conference in Washington, making that evening something special for association members to be on Capitol Hill.

Speaking of DOL, while AFOP was pleased to see the nomination and Senate confirmation of Labor Secretary Alex Acosta last year, association members, and indeed all involved with NFJP, would very much like to see Secretary Acosta recommend an experienced workforce development expert to the position of assistant secretary for the Employment and Training Administration, the agency with direct oversight of NFJP and other important Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act-authorized programs.  While it appeared we were close to seeing such a nomination last fall, it now appears that the search for the appropriate nominee continues.

Meanwhile, here in the Washington AFOP office, we continue to work hard to plan, prepare for, and execute a successful leadership conference at The Washington Court Hotel, January 30-February 1, 2018.  We project more than 100 AFOP directors and senior staff to attend for its biannual board meeting and timely, substantive training we will provide in conjunction with DOL and other federal government experts.  While the association was sad to see HELP-New Mexico’s Rita Garcia McManus retire after a long and distinguished career serving her state’s many farmworkers and their families, AFOP will also conduct an election at the board meeting to fill the at-large seat left vacant by Rita’s recent retirement.

AFOP also continues to excel in our Farmworker Health & Safety Program, facilitating pesticide-safety trainings for farmworker and their children, exceeding the goals we set with the United States Environmental Protection Agency and W. K. Kellogg Foundation, and doing everything we can to ensure federal decision-makers remain aware of the continuing disparity in federal law concerning children employed in agriculture.  We also remain a go-to source for NFJP technical assistance and training for member organizations and their staffs.  As I have often said, and will say many times more, if allowed the chance, the Washington AFOP office staff is the staff of the association members.  As such, we stand ready to assist and serve in however we can be helpful.  Please call on us when needed, and we will be there.

Again, hearty good wishes for the New Year.  With unity and strength, AFOP will meet it together and successfully, I have no doubt.