WASHINGTON, D.C., June 2, 2004 The National Farmers Union, the National Council of LaRaza, and LULAC (the League of United Latin American Citizens) are the latest groups to come out publicly in opposition to the Bush Administration proposal to wipe out the National Farmworker Jobs Program (NFJP). The destruction of the program would mean lost job opportunities and an insecure future for nearly 25,000 largely Hispanic families in the U.S. in the coming year alone, as well as leaving farmers and agribusiness concerns nationwide with a less educated, less healthy and less reliable work-force, according to a warning from the Association of Farm-worker Opportunity Programs (AFOP).
National Farmers Union President David J. Frederickson explains the value of this program to his 250,000 members using these words: “The National Farmworker Jobs Program helps America’s fragile rural communities grow stronger by empowering the work-force for high-skill jobs connected to agriculture. The training received through this program helps farmworkers attain specialized job skills necessary to produce high-value crops and secure stable, year-round employment in a field that is subject to chronic unemployment rates in off-peak seasons.”
There is growing, broad-based and bipartisan support for continuing the National Farmworker Jobs Program. For the last two years, despite the Administration’s attempts to end the program, Congress appropriated $76.7 million for the NFJP on a strong bipartisan basis. Farmworkers, unions, Latino advocacy organizations and faith-based groups convinced Republican and Democratic members of Congress that a national program best meets migrant farmworkers’ needs and that it is unfair to expect Governors to serve people who may work briefly in their states.
Hector Flores, National President of the League of United Latin American Citizens, said: “Sadly, the Bush administration wants Congress to kill funding in 2005 for the National Farmworker Jobs Program, even though it is one of the historically outstanding success stories of the federal government. There is no other national program able to carry out the unique mission of the National Farmworker Jobs Program in serving the predominantly Hispanic migrant and seasonal farm workers who handpick nearly all of the fruits and vegetables that America eats. It’s about guaranteeing the food security of the nation.”
This program serves farm-workers who are American citizens or are authorized immigrants. NFJP is designed to provide job training and other assistance to improve the circumstances of the predominately Hispanic farm labor
workforce, nearly all of which lives well below the federal poverty line. AFOP has noted that the Administration’s recommended cuts are particularly difficult to understand in that the NFJP recently was recognized by its parent federal agency, the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL), as DOL’s top-performing job training program. In a DOL report issued in January 2004, over 83 percent of eligible farmworkers who sought a job through training or placement got one through the NFJP a key indicator of success that exceeded every other DOL jobtraining program.
“The plan by the Adminis-tration’s Department of Labor to kill the National Farmworker Jobs Program would be a major lose-lose situation for the United States,” said AFOP Executive Director David Strauss. “Every year, this program helps thousands of Hispanic families find their way out of the vicious and unrelenting poverty cycle of seasonal and migrant farm work and into year-round, good-paying jobs with benefits. This also is a raw deal for farmers and agribusiness concerns nationwide who would pay the price in terms of a decline in the quality of workforce skills and stability of those workers.”
DOL reports show that the nonprofit and public organizations that operate with NFJP grants nationwide helped 6,591 largely Hispanic farm-workers in the most recent year transition to full-time, non-seasonal employment at an average end wage of $8.53. A total of 17,798 employed farmworkers mostly migrants received “related assistance” services (such as transportation, housing, nutrition, child care and emergency assistance) to stabilize their seasonal agricultural employment.
The National Farmworker Jobs Program staff overcomes substantial barriers to turn its trainees into the successes they become under the program. According to AFOP’s Strauss, “This program should be praised by DOL as a model for assisting low wage workers up the economic ladder. It is an outrage for an Administration that claims to be compassionate to try to block access to the American Dream for the hard working people who prepare and harvest America’s crops.”