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July 1995, Volume 1, Number 3

Farm Worker Assistance Programs

On May 18-19, 1995, a Congress on American Agricultural Labor
brought together more than 12 groups that represent and provide
services to farm workers in Washington DC. The Farmworker Justice
Fund released a "report card" on the administration's treatment of
migrant and seasonal workers, and gave failing grades to several
administration efforts, including those aimed at collecting back
wages owed farm workers.

Administration representatives pledged that the Clinton
Administration would oppose Congressional efforts to cut funding for
MSFW programs. Most speakers urged the Clinton Administration to
oppose calls for a new guest worker program. The Farmworker Justice
Fund Inc gave the Clinton Administration an "F" for several of its
first two years of farm worker activities, including pesticide
safety.

The "Big Four" farm worker programs--Migrant Education, Migrant
Health, Job Training, and Head Start--are protesting budget cuts.
Various newspapers have chronicled the lives of migrants in the past
few months to emphasize how they and their children would suffer if
these programs were eliminated or scaled back.

Many of these profiles make assertions that are contradicted by
what is known about farm workers, especially their number and
characteristics. For example, most migrant farm workers receiving
assistance under the Migrant Education program attend only one US
school each year, while 12 percent of the students who enroll in a
typical Chicago attend two or more schools during the year.

In a report supporting migrant education and health programs, the
Houston Chronicle profiled a migrant family based in Houston and
reported that "Each year, between 750,000 and 800,000 people
nationwide pack their belongings into vehicles, ranging from
new-model vans to jalopies duct-taped at the seams, and head where
the crops take them." According to the paper, "Migrant farm workers
harvest 85 percent of all the fruit and vegetables produced in this
country."

Furthermore, the Houston paper reported that "Most migrant farm
workers are either U.S. citizens or legal residents." During World
War II, "the U.S. government provided housing and health programs for
migrant farm workers," but stopped after the war. The "average life
expectancy of a career migrant worker" was reported to be 49 and,
according to the Houston paper, "the Environmental Protection Agency
estimates that 300,000 farm workers are poisoned by pesticides each
year."

The Houston paper reported that the Texas Education Agency has
"told" local recruiters to find the 10,000 migrant farm worker
children it believes are in the Houston area [TEA estimates that
there are 151,536 children of migrant farm worker families in Texas
schools]. For each migrant child located, the local school
district receives $200 to $500. Houston surveys the families of
children who might be migrants and then follows up with those who
respond in a fashion that suggests they could be classified as
migrants.

The family profiled in the paper had asparagus jobs and housing in
Washington lined up before they left Texas, and children who returned
to Houston to houses they owned in the area to be schooled during the
year. In May 1995, piecerate wages for asparagus harvesting were
reportedly $3.50 to $4.75 per 20-pound box of spears. The family of
five, which earned $14,500 in 1994, applied for food stamps and
Medicaid coupons upon their arrival in Washington.

In an article supporting JTPA 402 programs, the Christian Science
Monitor reported that there are 600,000 migrant farm workers, 60 to
70 percent of whom are legal, who earn an average $7500 annually.
JTPA 402 Migrant and Seasonal Farm Worker Training programs are
federally administered but locally-operated efforts to upgrade the
skills and earnings of MSFWs. Some 45,000 workers were enrolled at
least part of 1994, at a cost of $86 million, or the equivalent of
$1900. According to DOL evaluations, three-fourths of those enrolled
had higher wages afterward.

In Fresno, the 402 program offers a seven-hour a day, four-month
training program, and provides up to a $2 per hour stipend for those
who would otherwise have to drop out to go to work.

Many groups begun with private donations get government support
for their major activities. For example, the California's Farmworker
Women's Leadership Project, which has 250 members and a $ 60,000
annual budget from donors, has a $40,000 grant from the U.S. Centers
for Disease Control to deal with domestic violence in farm worker
households.



Adrianne Appel, " Farmhand Education on Weeding List," The
Christian Science Monitor, May 23, 1995; Tom Ford, "Exceptional kids
excel despite life on the road," Tampa Tribune, May 20, 1995; Carol
Rust, "Farm workers follow the harvest in a life on the move," The
Houston Chronicle, May 14, 1995; NPR, May 12, 1995.