The Farm Workforce Modernization Act, twice passed by the U.S. House of Representatives, suffered a second death after failing to garner the necessary votes in the U.S. Senate. The second funeral transpired despite whirlwind efforts by some U.S. Senators, congressional staffers, and dairy industry leaders.
The final push to include the Senate’s version took place prior to the Christmas recess. The thought was to include the Senate’s version — the Affordable and Secure Food Act — as an amendment to the omnibus bill. That much larger omnibus bill was necessary to fund the federal government.
U.S. Senator Michael Bennet (D-Colo.) led the final charge in the U.S. Senate. That last-ditch effort was necessary after bipartisan efforts between Bennet and Senator Mike Crapo (R-Idaho) broke down in early December as the two senators had been working to find common ground on the measure. After those efforts failed, Senator Bennet tried to secure 10 or more Republican supporters for the Affordable and Secure Food Act’s inclusion as an amendment in the omnibus appropriations bill. Unable to secure the necessary votes, Senate leadership did not allow the Affordable and Secure Food Act to come up for a vote. Later, the $1.7 trillion omnibus bill passed on a vote of 68-29.
“In the end, union demands for unworkable limits on the number of visas for nonseasonal workers and new legal liabilities for H-2A program employers left agriculture divided and unable to muster 10 or more Republican supporters needed for Senator Bennet’s version of the legislation to be included in the must-pass end-of-year spending bill,” shared Charles Garrison, president of the Garrison Group.
Had the Affordable and Secure Food Act gained inclusion, dairy farmers would have been able to employ H-2A workers. At the moment, only seasonal agricultural employers can hire H-2A workers.
Despite failing to pass the Senate, the earlier House efforts deserve mention. The Farm Workforce Modernization Act of 2019 passed by a vote of 260-165 on December 11, 2019. Meanwhile, the Farm Workforce Modernization Act of 2021 was moved forward on a vote of 247-174 by House Representatives on March 18, 2021.
Will the effort be revived in the new 118th Congress?
Time will tell. In the meantime, long-term food security hangs in the balance.