Harder Urges FEMA to Expand Support for Ag Workers

September 3, 2020
Press Release
Asymptomatic Workers Considered Essential, but Do Not Qualify for Isolation Housing

Modesto, CA – Representative Josh Harder (CA-10) is calling on the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to expand FEMA housing criteria to support agriculture workers, who are on the frontlines and have been working throughout the Coronavirus Pandemic. Currently, FEMA guidelines grant eligibility to workers for non-congregate sheltering which provides temporary isolated housing, for instance in hotels, motels, or dormitories, to individuals who test positive for Coronavirus and must isolate, individuals who have been exposed to Coronavirus, or are considered high risk. However, asymptomatic agriculture workers who work in close contact and often live in housing that does not allow for social distancing do not qualify for this type of housing.  

“Folks across the country literally have food on their tables because agriculture workers in the Valley have showed up to work every day during this pandemic,” said Rep. Harder. “They’re essential workers just as much as everyone else on the frontlines – but don’t necessarily qualify for the same temporary isolation housing. I’m calling on FEMA to give us some flexibility here, so our agriculture workers can not only keep our community fed, but also keep their families and neighbors healthy.”

Agriculture workers, especially our Latino agriculture workers, are at a significantly increased risk of Coronavirus exposure. While Latino residents account for 47 percent of the community in Stanislaus County, they account for 61 percent of positive cases.

A copy of the letter is available here and the full text is below.

Administrator Gaynor,

I write today to urge the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to expand the FEMA non-congregate sheltering criteria for COVID-19 to support our agricultural workers, who are on the frontlines of working during a global pandemic. An expansion will offer housing to some of our most vulnerable communities, including the many Latino agricultural workers in my district and across the state of California who are asymptomatic, who are at-risk of COVID-19 exposure.

Agricultural workers are a critical part of California’s Central Valley, maintaining the nation’s food supply and continuing to work throughout the pandemic as essential workers. Unfortunately, many of these workers have a difficult time self-isolating. California’s Housing for the Harvest program needs the flexibility to provide housing for our agricultural workers. FEMA should expand the non-congregate sheltering criteria to those who are asymptomatic, even outside of the “high-risk” category, effectively allowing our agricultural workers to keep themselves and their families safe during the pandemic.

It is especially important to broaden this criteria given the dire impacts of COVID-19 on Latino communities. According to Stanislaus County’s Dashboard, sixty-one percent of the county’s COVID-19 positive cases come from Latino patients, while they account for only forty-seven percent of the county’s overall population. These numbers reveal that support is needed for this population, and a key way to work towards this goal is to provide them with temporary housing to self-isolate even when they are asymptomatic.

It is my hope that the inclusion of asymptomatic workers in the non-congregate sheltering criteria will allow additional members of our community to stay healthy during the pandemic. I look forward to working with you and FEMA to ensure that our agricultural workers have access to safe temporary housing if they are exposed to COVID-19 while bravely doing their jobs and supporting our nation’s food supply.