Rep. Salud Carbajal, D-Santa Barbara, will be hosting a virtual forum at 1:30 p.m. today, where he will hear about the challenges plaguing the agriculture community due to COVID-19.
He will also provide information on the assistance currently being provided by the Department of Agriculture. People interested in attending the virtual town hall should RSVP at https://www.eventbrite.com/e/virtual-ag-forum-tickets-118540653285.
Rep. Carbajal has worked closely with the agriculture community in the past. In December 2019, he met with local ag leaders on the Central Coast to discuss a bipartisan bill addressing labor shortage.
The Farm Workforce Modernization Act, which Rep. Carbajal cosponsored, would provide a path to legalization for illegal immigrant farmworkers and their immediate family so that they can have more freedom to work in the fields without worry.
The bill also promises to streamline the H2-A visa program, a system that allows farmers to recruit foreign employees for temporary positions.
The bill passed the House on Dec. 11, 2019, by a vote of 260-165.
The northern cities of Santa Barbara County and San Luis Obispo County are part of the agricultural communities that have been hit the hardest by COVID-19.
According to the San Luis Obispo County Farm Bureau, the ag industry contributes $2.54 billion to the county economy and supports roughly 13,000 jobs.
In July, the Santa Maria City Council acknowledged the city’s ag industry, one of it’s largest economic sectors, was especially impacted by the virus, with farmworkers accounting for the large majority of the city’s positive cases.
Mayor Alice Patino said them being “essential workers” and having more contact with other people is a contributing factor, while councilman Mike Cordero said another factor could be the fact that many farmworkers live in close quarters with other families.
In late July, there was an investigation by the Santa Barbara County Public Health Department into motels used for H2-A worker housing operated by Alco Harvesting after an outbreak of positive COVID-19 cases at the congregate housing facility.
Santa Maria has the most positive COVID cases in the county (3,702) and the most deaths associated with the novel coronavirus (53).