Assemblymember Rivas Urges the State’s Attention to the Impacts of COVID-19 on Agricultural Businesses and Farmworkers

Tuesday, March 31, 2020

(SALINAS, CA) – In a letter dated March 24, 2020, Assemblymember Robert Rivas (D-Hollister) thanked Speaker Anthony Rendon for his leadership during the current COVID-19 crisis, and urged the State’s attention to the needs of agricultural businesses and farmworkers during this critical time. This essential sector of our economy faces significant challenges with respect to labor availability, housing, and health and safety – challenges that will be exasperated as this disease continues to spread.

I am calling on the Governor and Administration to help protect agriculture and its workers, one of the most vital industries in this state,” said Rivas. “District 30 is known as the salad bowl of the world, and all of California supplies a great deal of this nation’s produce and other food products. That’s why, during the COVID-19 shelter in place orders, the State has recognized agricultural workers as ‘essential critical infrastructure workers.’ We must continue to provide healthy foods to our state and nation, especially while people are scrambling to fill their pantries to weather this crisis.”

“Meanwhile, especially as we just celebrated Cesar Chavez Day on March 27th, we must not forget about the health and safety of our agricultural workers,” said Rivas. “I am asking the Administration to include agricultural businesses in any state economic stimulus. Like other essential workers, those in the agricultural sector must have access to sick leave, childcare, and adequate social distancing. This is relevant not only in their places of work, but also in their often overcrowded living conditions. Farmworkers also need adequate access to COVID-19 testing to protect themselves and to protect our food supply chain.”

 “We appreciate the efforts of Mr. Rivas, his colleagues, and Governor Newsom to address the needs of agriculture and rural communities,” said California Farm Bureau Federation Administrator Jim Houston. “These efforts will be imperative to ensure food production will continue and to minimize disruption of supplies to the many families sacrificing during these times. We look forward to working on more ways farmers and ranchers can help during these unprecedented times.”

Dr. Ann Lopez, Executive Director of the Center for Farmworker Families, echoed this sentiment. “Farmworkers often live in deplorable conditions. I have visited run-down dwellings with sixteen people and children living in less than 1000 square feet and one bathroom. Housing situations often lack adequate heating, a functional stove and refrigerator or functional plumbing and roof. Even before the onset of COVID-19, a farmworkers’ life average expectancy was only 49 years—in part, based on the stress of these conditions. We owe it to these essential workers who are the backbone of California’s $50 billion agricultural industry to provide for their health and safety.”

Rivas also asked the Assembly’s support for his following, proposed legislation:

  • Assembly Bill 2956, the California Agricultural Overtime Premium Tax Credit Act:  this bill encourages agricultural businesses to increase the available income of farm employees by temporarily relieving these businesses of the financial burden of paying overtime wage premiums
  • Assembly Bill 2164, the E-Consult Services and Telehealth Assistance Program:  this bill provides Federally Qualified Health Centers (FQHCs) and Rural Health Clinics (RHCs) – many in agricultural areas – with the tools necessary to implement an e-consult telehealth program, granting substantially enhanced access to health care providers and specialists for farmworkers and others.

Rivas said, “I am confident that, under the leadership of Speaker Rendon, we can work together as a Legislature, with the Administration, local jurisdictions and our residents to safeguard our food supply chain by enacting the necessary measures to protect agricultural business and its frontline workers. We will continue to produce healthy, fresh food for this region, California, and the nation.”

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Assemblymember Robert Rivas (D-Hollister) represents California’s 30th Assembly District, which includes all or portions of the cities and towns of Aromas, Big Sur, Chualar, Gilroy, Greenfield, Gonzales, Hollister, King City, Morgan Hill, Salinas, San Martin, San Juan Bautista, Soledad, Spreckels, and Watsonville.