Farmworker Health Care, Childhood Hunger Measures Debut by Deadline

Two bills introduced last week at the legislative deadline want to reach underserved populations: One would provide health care to California farmworkers and the other would expand nutrition programs to more kids throughout the state.

  • AB 1170, by Assembly member Luis Alejo (D-Salinas), would estimate the amount of money being spent on workers’ compensation, including medical coverage, for agricultural workers — and then appropriate that money from agricultural employers and put it into a fund that would pay for agricultural worker’s health benefits.
  • SB 708, by Sen. Tony Mendoza (D-Artesia), would require multiple-language applications be available online for free or reduced-price meals for schoolchildren.

Both bills were introduced Friday, the last day for legislation to be proposed for this legislative session.

The agricultural workers’ proposal is a two-year pilot program. It would exempt farm employers from paying workers’ compensation money to the state. Instead, the Department of Industrial Relations would analyze the amount of funding spent on workers’ comp, along with the total spent on workers’ comp medical coverage, then the department would direct farm employers to place that amount into a separate, continuously appropriated fund called the Care of Agricultural Workers Fund.

Agricultural employer Manuel Cunha, president of the Nisei Farmers League, a consortium of growers and related agricultural businesses, said he’s on board with the plan.

“This legislation is an innovative approach to provide health care services to all agricultural workers and does so in a way that does not use taxpayer resources and does not increase costs to our agricultural industry,” Cunha said in a written statement.

As for the school nutrition program, an online component could dramatically help parents access free or reduced-cost school food programs for their children, bill author Mendoza said.

“It is simply unconscionable that there are children who go throughout the school day hungry due to something as simple as a language barrier or the inability to access an online application [because of that language barrier],” Mendoza said. “[This] is a simple fix that will help enable thousands of children at a minimum to get one meal a day.”

The bill includes a provision to require clear instructions for families that are homeless or are migrants. It would apply both to the National School Lunch Program and the School Breakfast Program, which are federally funded.

According to Jessica Bartholow, legislative advocate at the Western Center on Law and Poverty, the state law would be the first of its kind in the nation.

“Child hunger is an indignity that no child should experience,” Bartholow said in a written statement, “yet approximately 16 million children in America do. [This bill would] remove barriers to apply for benefits for homeless, migrant and refugee families.”

To be eligible for the meal programs, the household income for a family of four must be less than $43,000.

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