“Farmworkers, meat packing workers, and grocery workers overcame unprecedented challenges and took on significant personal risk to ensure Americans could feed and sustain their families throughout the pandemic,” said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack in September 2021, when the Farm and Food Workers Relief (FFWR) program was first announced. “They deserve recognition for their resilience and financial support for their efforts to meet personal and family needs while continuing to provide essential services.”
Over the course of roughly a year, USDA identified 14 nonprofits and one tribal entity to disburse the relief money nationally. One of those organizations, the National Center for Farmworker Health, teamed up with LCF Georgia in June to reach South Georgia farmworkers with news of the relief program, and to help them apply (food workers statewide are eligible, including those employed in Georgia’s dominant poultry sector). In total, the Center received $36 million in federal money to distribute to workers.
“For us, it was important to be part of it because we have been building trust in South Georgia” for years, said Gigi Pedraza, LCF Georgia’s executive director.
She added: “It’s really important to make sure that agricultural workers in Georgia have access to the same benefits and the same outreach that folks in a place like California.”
Key in LCF Georgia’s outreach strategy is to identify and liaise with community leaders in the South Georgia farmworker and immigrant communities to help spread the word about the $600 payments.
As of July 5, LCF Georgia gathered a total of 81 relief applications from workers in Tift, Colquitt, Echols and Coffee counties.
To be eligible for the relief program, workers must provide an ID (such as a driver’s license or a foreign passport) and proof that they were employed as a farmworker or as another type of frontline food worker – including in meatpacking or grocery store work – at any point from January 2020 to May 11, 2023, when the federal government declared the COVID-19 public health emergency over.
No proof of citizenship or legal status is needed, a fact that Pedraza said “is reflective of the realities of the people that are working in agriculture.”
During the course of the pandemic, round after round of stimulus checks skipped over immigrants living in the country without authorization. The first $1,200 payments were also denied to U.S. citizens married to undocumented immigrants.
While farmworkers kept working and earning wages throughout the pandemic – barring illness – they incurred additional costs to secure protective equipment or arrange dependent care, part of USDA’s stated reasons for creating the relief program.
With her $600 in hand, Gutierrez plans to use the money to help cover utility bills and rent.
“Before, there was nothing like this,” said Gutierrez of the relief program. “I’ve been working out on the fields for decades. No one had ever given me anything.”
If you think you are eligible for the Farm and Food Workers Relief (FFWR) program or want more information, contact Latino Community Fund Georgia at (678) 705-2057 or via email by writing to info@LCFGeorgia.org.
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