Down to earth bills

Leslie Sheldon/Watertown Daily Times

Bills recently proposed in Albany and on Capitol Hill would benefit farmers as well as the people who work on them.

State Sen. Jennifer Metzger, D-Rosendale, introduced legislation to double what’s offered through the Farm Workforce Retention Credit. This measure would allow farmers to take a tax credit of $1,200 for each of their employees who works at least 500 hours a year. It also would extend the law indefinitely; it is now scheduled to sunset in 2022.

“Metzger said in a statement that this legislation would aid the relatively smaller family farms operating in New York in shouldering increasing farm expenses. Since 2007, New York farms’ production costs have increased 23.5 percent, according to Metzger’s bill. Farm labor expenses have made up a large chunk of those costs, more so in New York than nationwide,” a story published Oct. 28 by the Watertown Daily Times reported. “Metzger’s bill also contends that New York farmers are facing added challenges with a rising minimum wage, tightening labor market and the new Farm Labor Rights Act law ensuring farm workers get paid overtime after working 60 hours a week and that they get one day off each week. The New York Farm Bureau said this legislation proves Metzger’s understanding of the farming community’s needs.”

State Sen. Patricia Ritchie, R-Heuvelton, supports Ms. Metzger’s bill. This demonstrates its bipartisan appeal. The measure would help those who operate small farms, and it deserves to be turned into law.

A proposed piece of federal legislation would assist undocumented immigrants in obtaining H-2A work visas and green cards. This would ensure more parity for dairy farmers as this program is usually reserved for seasonal employees. Dairy farmers, of course, need workers year-round.

“The Farm Workforce Modernization Act, co-sponsored by 44 representatives including Rep. Elise Stefanik, D-Schuylerville, would provide undocumented farmworkers a pathway to permanent legal status, or green cards, and farmworkers in the year-round dairy industry access to the H-2A work visa program, which is typically reserved for seasonal and temporary agriculture industry. Proponents of the bill have said it’s a critical move to support the agriculture industry in its time of crisis due to a struggling economy, attacks on seasonal worker visa programs and an increasing number of employee audits by Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials,” according to a story published Nov. 1 by the Watertown Daily Times. “The legislation stipulates that immigrant farmworkers who have worked in agriculture for at least two years prior to the introduction of the bill would be eligible for ‘certified agriculture worker status.’ The status can be adjusted to lawful permanent residency — or a green card — if the immigrant has worked a specified number of years before and after the bill enacted.

“The bill would also streamline the application process for seasonal worker visas, raise wages and allow agriculture workers access to more green cards,” the story reported. “The access to the H-2A work visa would be groundbreaking for the large dairy industry in upstate New York, which was comprised of nearly 4,300 farms in 2017, according to the state Department of Agriculture. With low-skill work visas currently reserved for temporary, seasonal industry, the dairy farm industry tends to have largely undocumented workers.”

Ms. Stefanik’s support of this bill reflects her understanding of the obstacles that dairy farmers in Northern New York confront. It should have enough backers to make it through the U.S. House of Representatives.

However, it will likely face stiff opposition in the GOP-dominated U.S. Senate. Legislators there need to put their partisan objections aside and see this bill as one part of the overall effort to reform our immigration policies, something that have been needed for many years.

Johnson Newspapers 7.1

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