For Immediate Release, September 9, 2020

Contact:

Rural Coalition, (703) 624-8869, deshawn@ruralco.org or lpicciano@ruralco.org
Alianza Nacional de Campesinas, (951) 545-1917, mariadeluna@campesinasunite.org or mily@campesinasunite.org
Hannah Connor, Center for Biological Diversity, (202) 681-1676, hconnor@biologicaldiversity.org

Congress Urged to Provide Immediate Pandemic Relief to U.S Food, Farm, Fish Systems

Workers, Small to Mid-size Farmers, Consumers in Communities of Color Especially Vulnerable Unless Congress Acts

WASHINGTON— While the U.S. Senate was out on recess, a broad coalition of over 160 organizations warned in a letter addressed to congressional leaders of dire consequences for the American food, farm, and fish systems — and the historically underserved communities that make them work — unless Congress acts now to provide immediate pandemic relief.

“With each day Congress fails to enact inclusive COVID-19 relief legislation for communities across the country, more and more people — and disproportionately immigrant families, essential workers and people of color — are facing hunger, homelessness and illness,” said Thomas J. Rachko, Jr., acting advocacy officer at Human Rights Watch. “Congress should take immediate action to protect the farmworkers, meat-processing workers and other essential workers who are risking their lives to feed this country.”

The letter, authored by Alianza Nacional de Campesinas, Rural Coalition and a number of allies in the food, farm and fish systems, urges Congress to provide equitable and just food and farming systems for all communities by providing pandemic relief that:

  • Ensures protections for farmworkers, fish and food-system workers and their communities;
  • Sustains small and mid-scale farmers, ranchers and fishers, including support for farm and food programs that increase food system resilience for rural, agricultural, immigrant and low-income communities; and
  • Ensures basic health, safety, economic security, education, housing and representation for rural and tribal communities.

“Regardless of their immigration status, farmworkers and food-chain workers deserve immediate and equitable pandemic relief from Congress that ensures their health, safety and economic security,” said Hannah Connor, a senior attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity. “Rather than continuing to bail out large corporations, Congress must act now to address systemic inequalities in rural and farmworker communities and protect the people who are risking their lives to feed this country.”

As the seasons change, farmers and farmworkers are also preparing for natural disasters atop the unprecedented pandemic.

“Farmworkers have finally been recognized as ‘essential workers’ and it is about time we put action where our words are,” said Jeannie Economos from the Farmworker Association of Florida. “Right now, farmworkers are risking their health and lives working through brutally high summer temperatures, threats of hurricanes, and dangerously close to furious wildfires in California all during a global pandemic — just so the rest of us can have food to eat. Our leaders must step up and pass the ‘essential’ protections our farmworkers need. There is no time to waste.”

The coalition amplified its message in congressional outreach and sharing of individual pandemic-related stories. It also organized a Tweetstorm to congressional leaders to elevate its message of protecting food and farm systems and immigrant and rural communities in the next pandemic relief package.

“We will not be able to restore the health and security of our food-supply system unless and until we restore the health and security of the people who make it work,” said Mily Trevino-Saucedo, executive director of the Alianza Nacional de Campesinas. “This includes the nearly 700,000 farmworker women who are the backbone of our agricultural industry and who struggle to care for their families with none of the federal support extended earlier to most other workers.”

“Persistently poor rural areas, like the Alabama Black Belt, Mississippi Delta, Rio Grande Valley and tribal communities, face a per capita incidence of COVID-19 infections greater than in urban centers and other rural areas,” said Rural Coalition Chairperson John Zippert. “The pandemic compounds existing health care disparities, poverty, unemployment, poor schools and ecological degradation that can only be corrected with a targeted national plan to remediate the disease and its interrelated problems.”

The coalition urges Congress to include legislation that addresses the disproportionate impact of COVID-19 and lack of relief for food, farm and fish systems with targeted relief for small and mid-size farmers, immigrant communities, and rural communities of color.

“The millions of people hardest hit by COVID-19 include small and mid-scale farmers, and farm — and other food workers and their children — many of them Black, indigenous or people of color living with lower incomes,” said David Wallinga, senior health officer at the Natural Resources Defense Council. “Having a nation that’s more pandemic-resilient means extending immediate relief to these ‘essential’ workers, while also ensuring the food system we all are paying for supports their physical and economic wellbeing in the future.”

The letter can be downloaded here.

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 1.7 million members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.