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Commentary :: Labor & Class

Why the National Farmworker Jobs Program Works

The National Farmworker Jobs Program has been zeroed out in the President's budget for the third year in a row because Bush claims it is ineffective. Here is proof that it works.
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Dean Moore,* father of three, was working on a farm in the Shenandoah Valley earning $7000 per year before he met staff working with the National Farmworker Jobs Program (NFJP). Today, he is a commercial truck driver making $2000 per month. He and his wife have recently put a down payment on their first home. Dinesha Ryan,* is a single mom living in the Southside of Virginia. She started working on a tobacco farm when she was 14. When she enrolled in NFJP, she had earned just $810 last year. Now, Dinesha is in college majoring in Electrical Engineering. When her training is over, she will work at an energy company starting at $15 an hour. James Alvarado* was picking blueberries in Michigan and trying to support his family of four on just $15,000 per year. Through NFJP, he was able to become a heavy equipment operator. Today he works full time on a farm outside of Harrisonburg earning more than $25,000 a year plus benefits.
There are thousands of stories like these from people who have participated in NFJP since the program first began in 1964. The Department of Labor’s (DOL) website states that since its inception, NFJP has been an integral part of the national workforce strategy. They explain that NFJP provides funding to assist farmworkers attain greater economic stability by assisting them to acquire new job skills in occupations offering better pay and a more stable employment outlook, and by providing supportive services to them while they work in agricultural labor. The NFJP, as a mandated partner in the One-Stop System, also facilitates One-Stop Center access for farmworkers so they may benefit from other services in the workforce system.
For the third consecutive year, the Bush Administration has requested zero funding for the NFJP. Although Congress went against those wishes and refunded the program in 2003 and 2004, White House officials continue to maintain, against their own evidence, that the program is ineffective and duplicates services offered by other WIA providers.
Fact is, the program is effective. Many argue that it is far more effective than most mainstream employment and training programs. In one DOL report, Workforce System Results September 2003, over 83% of eligible farmworkers who sought a job through training or placement got one through NFJP -- a percentage that exceeded every other DOL job training program.
The program is also not duplicative. Statistics show that DOL rarely serves farmworkers in its other programs. NFJP provides culturally and linguistically sensitive staff. Without this program, many One-Stops would not be able to meet the unique needs of farmworkers. One-Stops rely on NFJP staff to provide services such as translations and orientations to limited English speakers because they do not have bilingual staff of their own.
It should of great concern to states that if the NFJP’s $76.7 million is eliminated, this money will not be transferred to the states. Governors will get an unfunded mandate to serve thousands of additional workers. Considering current state deficits, how are states going to serve farmworkers with multiple barriers who require special assistance to gain employment? This mandate, along with cuts to other migrant service programs, will provide fewer resources to serve this population effectively.
In an age of homeland security concerns, why wouldn’t policymakers want to ensure a secure food supply by supporting programs that help the growers and farmworkers who prepare and harvest 85% of the fruits and vegetables we consume? NFJP assistance with emergency needs help stabilize farmworkers until the grower pays them. This helps stabilize the workforce, allow growers to harvest their crops in a timely manner, and ensure a secure food source.
NFJP makes a difference in the lives of people in agriculture. It has been proven cost effective. For a pittance of the federal budget, people like Dean, Dinesha, and James can participate in the American Dream. They can buy homes, provide for their children, and participate in building communities. Policymakers should be wary of the administration’s systematic dissolution of poverty programs and particularly their attack on farmworkers. Soon, states will find themselves dealing with a population who is not getting served by mainstream workforce development programs. If farmworker programs disappear, workers will lose what little voice and opportunity they have gained since 1964. It is incumbent upon everyone to ensure that farmworkers who provide us with fresh, safe American produce have the opportunity to realize economic self sufficiency and all that it entails.

*Participants have been changed to protect their privacy.

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