Stimulus Update: Farm Workers and Meat Packers To Receive $600 Checks
Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced yesterday a new plan to distribute one-time $600 pandemic relief payments to the U.S. meat packers and farmworkers. The aid comes as part of a new $700 million aid program from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
The grants are intended to hedge some of the cost workers bore as many bought their own protective equipment or took unpaid leave as the virus severely impacted the agriculture industry — even though they were still required to show up for work.
Bloomberg adds that the Biden Administration plans to distribute the aid as part of the overall agriculture relief program to mostly benefit farmworkers but to also include a low-income, largely immigrant food-chain workforce that has been hit hard by COVID-19 infections.
“While the rest of America could work from home, these brave men and women continued to show up for work every single day to ensure that we all had food on our tables that we could eat,” said Marc Perrone, president of the United Food and Commercial Workers union, the Business Standard reports. “Meatpacking plants experienced some of the most deadly COVID-19 outbreaks when the pandemic first came around and there were workers that are deserving of our help, and our thanks and our support.”
The UFCW union, which represents roughly 80% of the nation’s beef and pork workers and 33 percent of its poultry workers, estimates that at least 132 meatpacking workers died of COVID-19 and at least 22,000 workers have been infected or exposed to the virus.
Meat processing plants were some of the hardest hit during the pandemic, as several were late to close despite positive infections and continued the shoulder-to-shoulder workday. In April of 2020, one of the largest meat plants in the country, Smithfield had become the number one infection hotspot in the entire U.S. with a cluster of 644 confirmed cases among their employees and people who contracted it from them. In total, Smithfield-related infections accounted for 55% of the entire caseload in its state of South Dakota.
A JBS meatpacking plant in Colorado had shut down after five people died and 103 infections amongst its employees and two workers at a Tyson Foods plant in Iowa also passed away, with 148 others infected.
Workers in the meat and meatpacking industry were considered essential workers during the early days of the pandemic.
“These jobs for essential workers are lower-paying than the average job across America, in some cases by significant margins. So home health aides, cashiers – absolutely essential, on the front lines, have to physically report to work,” said Adie Tomer, a fellow at the Brookings Institute to the BBC.
Vilsack said in a call to reporters that this additional $600 in aid will be a “reflection of the essential nature of the work they performed in the pandemic.”
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