Trump admin looks to cut farmworker pay to help industry during pandemic: report

Trump admin looks to cut farmworker pay to help industry during pandemic: report
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The Trump administration is reportedly working on plans to reduce the wages of foreign workers on U.S. farms, a move it think swould help farmers facing economic uncertainty during the coronavirus pandemic, according to a report by NPR.

Farmers have struggled during the pandemic as schools, restaurants and other businesses that buy their products close. The blow from the pandemic follows the tariff war with China that already resulted in economic hardship for some farmers.

According to NPR, President TrumpDonald John TrumpNew Jersey incumbents steamroll progressive challengers in primaries Tucker Carlson ratchets up criticism of Duckworth, calls her a 'coward' Trump on Confederate flag: 'It's freedom of speech' MORE's new White House chief of staff Mark MeadowsMark Randall MeadowsThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Miami pauses reopenings as COVID-19 infections rise, schools nationally plot return Overnight Health Care: Trump downplaying of COVID-19 sparks new criticism of response Trump downplaying sparks new criticism of COVID-19 response MORE has been working with Agriculture Secretary Sonny PerdueGeorge (Sonny) Ervin PerdueOVERNIGHT ENERGY: Senior Interior official contacted former employer, violating ethics pledge: watchdog | Ag secretary orders environmental rollbacks for Forest Service | Senate advances public lands bill in late-night vote Ag secretary orders environmental rollbacks for Forest Service Justice Department investigating meat price increases: report MORE to consider a policy reducing pay for foreign guest workers. Those workers, on the H-2A seasonal guest-worker program, make up about 10 percent of farm laborers. 

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"The administration is considering all policy options during this unprecedented crisis to ensure our great farmers are protected, and President Trump has done and will do everything he can to support their vital mission," a White House official told NPR. 

It's not clear how the Trump administration would take the measures to reduce pay, but NPR reports that Perdue has pushed to change a specific rule that guides how farmers using the H-2A program pay their workers. The rule requires farmers to pay their laborers a wage comparative to local hourly pay laws. Under the rule, hourly pay rates range from $11.71 in Florida to $14.77 in California.

Perdue has said in the past that those pay rates are "kind of pricing ourselves out of business" and has suggested changes.

Such a policy, if it were to be implemented, would come on the heels of Trump announcing Friday that he has instructed Perdue to get aid to farmers and develop a program of "at least $16 billion" to provide relief to the industry. 

Farmworkers have been labeled essential during the pandemic, and some have feared there could be a food shortage if the industry is not properly taken care of as the virus spreads. 

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Last month the United Nations said that while harvests have been good and staple crops remain in demand, a shortage of field workers brought on by the pandemic could lead to problems in the food supply. 

Erik Nicholson, the national vice president for the United Farm Workers, told NPR that guest workers are worried they may lose their jobs and are already vulnerable, living in cramped housing without proper hand-washing facilities during the pandemic. 

Updated: 11 p.m.