Agriculture and food workers could get $ 600 federal bonus


WATERLOO, Iowa (KWWL) – Workers at farms and meat packing plants who have been severely affected by the coronavirus pandemic will be eligible for grants of up to $ 600 per person.

It is part of a new $ 700 million aid package announced Tuesday by the US Department of Agriculture.

“There is a reprieve here to help these, these essential workers in our community,” said Joe Henry, Iowa political director for the League of United Latin American Citizens. “It is, as we would see, like the first step.”

A handful of recently published studies have found that workers in the food industry have more COVID-19 than other industries.

Black Hawk County health officials noted that the first spike in COVID-19 cases was the result of an outbreak at Tyson Foods in Waterloo. Problems within the factory grew to the point where seven supervisors were fired and wrongful death lawsuits were filed.

“When the virus was really gaining traction here in the Midwest, no security measures were put in place,” Henry said. “The workers were very scared because they heard about other people who were infected.”

As COVID-19 ravaged facilities, many food industry workers had no choice but to report to work in person.

According to the United Food and Commercial Workers Union, at least 132 meat packing workers have died from COVID-19 and at least 22,000 workers have been infected or exposed to the virus. At least five workers at the Waterloo plant have died from complications from the virus.

U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said the subsidies recognize this and some of the personal costs food workers have endured over the past year.

“Our farm laborers, meat packers and grocers have overcome unprecedented challenges and taken significant personal risks to ensure that Americans can feed and support their families throughout the world. pandemic, “Vilsack said in a statement. “They deserve to be recognized for their resilience and financial support for their efforts to meet personal and family needs while continuing to provide essential services.”

The grants will cover the cost of expenses related to the pandemic, such as workers in personal protective equipment purchased with their own money or workers who have remained at home without pay.

Henry said several workers were unable to work for weeks and months.

“If there were health care benefits, it only paid 80% of health costs, not the top 20%,” he said. “We have workers and families who still have thousands of dollars, sometimes tens of thousands of dollars that they have to pay off a medical bill.”

Grants will be distributed through state agencies, governments and non-profit organizations like LULAC. Organizations will be able to apply to participate in the distribution starting this fall.

Henry said LULAC hopes to be involved, since many workers are minorities or immigrants.

“It is our members who have been affected by this in many communities,” said Henry. “We know who our members are, we know their families and we know that they may not be able to receive this information about this funding from other organizations.”

While Henry said the USDA grants were good news and a good first step, he said more needs to be done to keep workers safe.

Workers who work often should support, he said, more needs to be done to increase the distance between them.

“We need to slow down the speed of work in many of these facilities,” he said.

In August, Tyson Foods announced it would require its employees to be vaccinated against COVID-19. All Tyson employees will need to be vaccinated against COVID-19 by November 1. As of Friday, more than 90,000 American employees of the company (more than 75%) had received at least one dose of the vaccine. That’s an increase of about 34,000 since the company announced its vaccine needs in early August.

The USDA also announced a $ 20 million program to reimburse frontline grocery store workers.

The agency also plans to announce similar assistance of $ 700 million for producers, processors, farmers’ markets, distributors and processors of seafood who have been affected by COVID-19.

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