Farmworkers are risking their lives to feed a nation on lockdown

You can’t pick strawberries over Zoom.

As strawberry-picking season kicks into high gear in April and May, farmworker advocates fear that a lack of worker safety protections, combined with a lack of access to health care and crowded living conditions, could lead to a major COVID-19 outbreak in farmworker communities across California.

As other crops are harvested throughout the spring, much of the rest of the country faces a similar risk. For a working population particularly vulnerable due to economic insecurity, exposure to pesticides, higher incidence rates of respiratory illnesses such as asthma, and chronic conditions such as diabetes, COVID-19 could be devastating.

“If we don’t do something to address the living, working, housing, and transportation conditions of farmworkers immediately, we are setting ourselves up for a tremendous impact in the agricultural sector because these crops cannot be picked without farmworkers,” said Andrea Delgado, director of government affairs for the UFW Foundation, which provides a range of services to farmworker and immigrant communities.

At the federal and state level, the UFW Foundation has urged Congress and state governments to address the unique needs of farmworkers by providing relief that can both prevent the spread of the virus and help the workers survive the challenges ahead. There are more than 2.4 million farmworkers across the country, and it’s estimated that about half are undocumented.

In the most recent economic stimulus package, Congress earmarked $9.5 billion for the Department of Agriculture and $14 billion in loans for the agricultural industry, but Delgado’s concern is that none of this funding is specifically directed at farm laborers.

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