Bennet, Newhouse, Farm Workers, Agricultural Employers Rally Behind Plan to Address Labor Crisis in American Agriculture

Washington, D.C. — Today, Colorado U.S. Senator Michael Bennet, U.S. Representatives Dan Newhouse (R-Wash.), Salud Carbajal (D-Calif.), David Valadao (R-Calif.), farm workers, and agricultural employers announced a plan to reform the H-2A visa program, provide farm workers with certainty, lower food prices for American families, and secure our nation’s food supply. The Affordable and Secure Food Act (ASFA) will reform the H-2A Temporary Agricultural Worker program by expanding H-2A visas to year-round jobs for the first time, modernizing the application process, creating more wage certainty, and ensuring critical protections for farm workers.

In the last year, food costs rose faster than any time in four decades, squeezing family budgets and forcing impossible choices between food, groceries, medicine, and housing. A key driver of rising food costs is the acute shortage of skilled farm labor, leading to increased labor costs. This not only drives up food prices, but also drives many family farms and ranches out of business.

“The shortage of skilled farm labor has dramatically increased the cost of food, squeezing family budgets and forcing them to make impossible choices between food, groceries, medicine, and housing,” said Bennet. “This plan is broadly supported by farmers, by labor, by immigration advocates, and business. There is no reason that we shouldn’t get this done. If Congress can’t get this done, it would not only be a massive missed opportunity, but a dereliction of our duty to the American people, to the rural economy in this country, and to agriculture.”

“For decades now, growers across the country have been struggling due to a lack of labor. And now, Americans are facing the highest food prices we’ve seen in over 40 years because inputs—including labor—are becoming scarcer. It’s not rocket science, without an adequate workforce, our crops will go unharvested, and our already-delicate food supply chain is placed further at risk. So let’s stop waiting, and start acting,” said Newhouse. “Let’s reform our broken immigration laws and ensure that those who wish to pursue a legal pathway or come to our country to contribute to our agriculture industry are able to do so. Let’s protect our communities, strengthen our national security, and secure our southern border, but also recognize the contributions of immigrants and bolster our local economies, producers, and small businesses. Let’s secure our food supply and ensure American families can afford the groceries they need. And it is with reforms like this that we can finally do all those things and provide a lasting solution for our farmers, our farmworkers, and our country.”

"I'm proud to stand with Senator Bennet to urge the Senate to act on the Affordable and Secure Food Act–which will provide certainty to our farmers, farmworkers, and the millions of American families who count on finding affordable American-grown food on the shelves every time they visit the grocery store" said Carbajal. "My father was a farmworker and I spent summers working with him in the fields. I know firsthand how important the labor of those who harvest our food is to my community and to this nation. Agriculture is the number one industry on the Central Coast of California, and I have heard countless times from producers about the devastating labor shortage that stems from our broken immigration system. This bill gets us one step closer to the critical reforms that we need to deliver fairness, stability, and certainty for every part of the food supply chain."

“With food prices on the rise across the country, more people are starting to take notice of just how important our food supply chain is to keeping costs low and store shelves stocked. Food security is national security, and our farm workers are an essential part of this food supply chain,” said Valadao. “While these workers play an essential role in feeding America, many of them live in fear because of our broken immigration system. Making sure our farmers have access to a legal and reliable workforce and streamlining the process for the future flow of workers is just common sense. This issue is too important to not move forward, and I hope with this momentum we can finally make this commonsense fix to strengthen our farm workforce.” 

The Affordable and Secure Food Act reflects years of close input from farmers and ranchers, agricultural workers, and labor organizations. Specifically, the ASFA would:

  • Establish a program for agriculture workers, along with their spouses and minor children, to earn legal status. Farm workers in the program may earn a path to a green card after 10 years of agriculture work.
  • Reform the H-2A Temporary Agricultural Worker program by providing H-2A visas for year-round jobs for the first time, modernizing the application process, creating more wage certainty, and ensuring critical protections for H-2A farm workers. 
  • Establish a mandatory, nationwide electronic verification system for all agricultural employment, with high standards for privacy and accuracy. 
  • Lower the cost of and increase access to farm workers and rural housing. 

The Affordable and Secure Food Act is supported by:  National Council of Farmer Cooperatives, International Fresh Produce Association, AmericanHort, Land O’Lakes, Inc., American Business Immigration Coalition-Action, Western Growers, National Potato Council, U.S. Apple Association, American Mushroom Institute, Edge Dairy Farmer Cooperative, National Milk Producers Federation, National Farmers Union, Florida Fruit & Vegetable Association, United Farm Workers, Rocky Mountain Farmers Union, and Voces Unidas de las Montañas.

“I would like [to] thank Senator Bennet for his steadfast leadership in addressing the greatest challenge facing farmers today—the inability to find a skilled, dependable workforce to help ensure food security for Americans here at home and untold millions across the globe,” said Chuck Conner, National Council of Farmer Cooperatives President and CEO. “It is critical that this legislation be included in the omnibus appropriations bill moving through Congress in the coming days. Quite frankly, there is no ‘Plan B.’ Without action this year, ag labor reform will be off the table for years to come, bringing with it the certainty that more crops will go unharvested, more farmers will lose their businesses, and more Americans will be dependent on imported food to provide for their families.”

“There is a reason why the average American is angry at Congress. This bill cuts inflation, protects US food security, gives farmers the workers they need and farm workers legal status, and removes undocumented labor from a whole sector of our economy. Sen Bennet is putting forward a solution that the Senate should have the courage to pass,” said Rebecca Shi, American Business Immigration Coalition Action Executive Director.

"Apple growers from coast-to-coast are hanging on by a thread as labor and input costs spiral out of control. The reforms included in the Affordable and Secure Food Act would provide much needed stability and certainty for the agriculture workforce and predictability to the H-2A program.  In short, it is good for both growers and workers. We thank Senator Bennet for bringing this proposal forward and urge the Senate to act swiftly." said Jim Bair, U.S. Apple Association President & CEO.

“The National Potato Council thanks Senator Bennet for seeking to honor the bipartisan Senate negotiations intended to solve U.S. agriculture’s labor crisis.  The bill announced today is a strong step forward and enhances the House-passed Farm Workforce Modernization Act.  We also thank Congressman Newhouse, Senator Crapo and all the bipartisan negotiators for their work on this important issue.  The National Potato Council encourages further bipartisan discussions to gain the necessary votes to include a solution in the Omnibus and see it signed by the President in this Congress.  Inaction will only deepen the U.S. agricultural labor crisis, and threaten the competitiveness of American farms and the food they produce,” said Kam Quarles, National Potato Council CEO

“More than 65 percent of horticulture producers are unable to find the hands to grow the trees and plants our customers want tomorrow.  We are not alone. Across U.S. agriculture more workers are needed to assure the price and availability that consumers expect of American-grown food and agricultural products. The Affordable and Secure Food Act represents the kind of legislative solution needed and we urge others [to] join us in supporting [it],” said Ken Fisher, AmericanHort CEO.

“We greatly appreciate the leadership and determination demonstrated by Senator Michael Bennet in bringing this bill forward. Approval of the Affordable and Secure Food Act will help ensure a stable, legal agricultural workforce and secure the reliability of our domestically produced food supply,” Dave Puglia, Western Growers President and CEO.

“NFU has heard repeatedly from our members that our current agricultural labor laws are broken. We need a farm workforce policy that actually works for everyone and this bill from Senator Bennet does just that. We’re proud to support this legislation and will work with Senator Bennet to push it forward,” said Rob Larew, National Farmers Union President.

“NMPF supports this legislation because dairy farmers are in especially dire straits in America’s ongoing agricultural labor crisis. Unlike many other ag sectors, dairy cannot access the current H-2A agricultural guestworker program because our farmers produce milk year-round, and H-2A is currently restricted to seasonal production by the Department of Labor. The Affordable and Secure Food Act provides immediate relief to dairy farmers by addressing concerns regarding current workers,” said Jim Mulhern National Milk Producers Federation President and CEO. “Dairy farmers and farmworkers urgently need action to improve our ag labor system. This measure provides significant improvements to current law and is an important step forward, and NMPF will continue to work to remedy serious limitations regarding future access to farm workers.”

"We are grateful to Senator Bennet for his commitment to our community members who work on farms and ranches all across Colorado and are responsible for feeding the country,” said Alex Sánchez, Voces Unidas de las Montañas President and CEO, an advocacy organization based in Colorado’s Western Slope. “This critical legislation will create certainty for farm workers, bringing them and their families out of the shadows, and will also secure the nation's food supply with a more stable workforce. We urge Congress to pass it as soon as possible.”

“Crippling labor shortages have existed for years, so the fresh produce industry implores Congress to finally act on the most important thing that can be done to stabilize the agricultural workforce, ease the strain on the supply chain and lower the cost to consumers,” said Robert Guenther, IFPA’s chief policy officer. “We applaud Senator Bennet and Representative Newhouse for their leadership in seeking to provide long-needed certainty for the entire agriculture supply chain,” said Robert Guenther, International Fresh Produce Association Chief Policy Officer.

Bennet understands that our broken immigration system weakens our economy, reduces our global competitiveness, and keeps millions of hardworking families in the shadows. Bennet was a member of the “Gang of Eight,” a group of bipartisan senators who worked together to write a comprehensive bill to fix our broken immigration system. The Senate passed the bill with 68 votes in 2013. The Affordable and Secure Food Act builds on Bennet’s work to fix our broken immigration system to boost our economy, strengthen American agriculture, and provide legal certainty for undocumented farm workers. In May, Bennet highlighted the cost of America’s broken immigration system for the nation and called for an end to partisan games and for passing comprehensive, bipartisan reform. 

The bill text is available HERE. A one-page summary of the bill is available HERE. A section-by-section summary of the bill is available HERE. A ‘myths vs. facts’ sheet is available HERE.