Biden to Give $600 Relief Payments to Meatpacking, Farm Workers
(Bloomberg) -- The Biden Administration plans to distribute one-time $600 pandemic relief payments to U.S. meatpacking and farm workers, expanding an agriculture aid program that so far mostly has benefited farm owners to also include a low-income, largely immigrant food-chain workforce that’s been hit hard by Covid infections.
Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced the aid Tuesday amid a new wave of Covid cases related to the Delta variant and as President Joe Biden seeks to unite the progressive and moderate wings of the Democratic to pass his $4 trillion economic agenda.
Biden’s $1.9 trillion Covid relief package passed in March provides the U.S. Department of Agriculture flexibility to use some of the aid to assist food-production workers. Progressives, labor unions and farm-worker advocates have been urging the administration to make use of the authority.
Meatpacking plants were an early epicenter of the pandemic and there were large outbreaks among migrant farm workers, who often live and work in crowded conditions.
“This is a reflection of the essential nature of the work they performed in the pandemic,” Vilsack said in a conference call with reporters.
The USDA set aside as much as $700 million for the aid, to be distributed through state agencies, tribal entities and non-profit groups serving farm workers and meatpacking workers. A small portion, as much as $20 million, will be provided for payments to grocery-store workers in what Vilsack described as a “pilot program,” likely to cover only a small share of those employees.
The aid is intended to cover costs for personal protective equipment, dependent care, vaccine-related expenses and lost wages but recipients won’t have to show receipts, Vilsack said.
Vilsack said the department hasn’t yet determined whether undocumented workers will be eligible for the payments, though he said he favors granting the aid regardless of immigration status.
All these workers “put themselves at risk,” he said.
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