Though unlikely to get much support from Democrats, a bill from Rep. Ted Yoho (R-Fla.), aims to establish a year-round ag guest-worker program run by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
The legislation also would require that each agricultural guest worker be issued a biometric card for identification purposes.
Yoho, a member of the House Agriculture Committee, introduced the “Labor Certainty for Food Security Act.”
“The Labor Certainty for Food Security Act will bring relief to America’s farmers and ranchers who are in dire need of a steady, reliable labor force,” Yoho said in a news release. “If Congress does not address this need in a bipartisan, meaningful way, we will either import our labor or import our food.”
The bill is an alternative to the Farm Workforce Modernization Act, which already passed the House Dec. 11. The vote for that bill was 260-165, including support from 226 Democrats and 34 Republicans.
Michael Marsh, president and CEO of the National Council of Agricultural Employers, said the group was pleased that Yoho continues to be invested in finding a solution for agriculture labor reform, even though it may be a challenge for Yoho’s bill to be heard in the Democrat-led House.
“At the same time, we applaud his continued commitment,” he said.
Marsh said farm labor advocates hope Senate legislation is introduced by the end of March. He said both Democrat and Republican Senate offices are still receptive to solving the issue this year, he said.
Main features of the Labor Certainty for Food Security Act include:
- A year-round agricultural guest worker program that will be administered by the USDA;
- Eliminates the H-2A requirement that employers provide housing and transportation for at-will agricultural guest workers;
- Wages are required to be the highest of three standards: 115% of the federal minimum wage, the state minimum wage, or the actual wage level paid by the employer to all other individuals with similar experience;
- Piece-rate or other wage systems are allowed if wages meet the required amount;
- The visa length for agricultural guest workers is three years, with renewal available up to six months before it expires;
- Unauthorized workers in the U.S. must pay a $2,500 fine in order to be eligible to apply;
- Workers in the program receive biometric ID cards, with 15-digit codes for tax withholdings and employment verification; and
- The smart chip in the card will include fingerprints, retinal scans, DNA, blood type, and facial recognition.