By Tony Eberhard, IDFA Vice President of Legislative Affairs
Welcome to “Hill of Beans,” a periodic update by Tony Eberhard about the association’s work in the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate to advance dairy industry priorities. After working on the Hill for various members of Congress and senators since 2001, Eberhard gives IDFA readers a former Hill staffer’s take on what is going on and how it affects our priorities.
“There is a lot of work being done in the House and Senate that never makes the headlines but affects members’ bottom lines, and I’m hoping these updates will prove useful to you and your organization,” Eberhard said. “I’m titling these updates ‘Hill of Beans’ because to many in national media this information might not amount to much, but to our industry’s agenda in Congress, it is critical.” Read the update below.
Laboring for Progress
When I think of topics for Hill of Beans, I do try to stay away from those immersed in partisan battles, so discussing immigration may seem to be an odd choice for this week. The debate on Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, also known as DACA, and border security certainly draws strong opinions from all sides. But, what I want to call your attention to is an immigration effort that, though it has received less attention than other aspects of immigration reform, is critical to the dairy industry: The Agricultural Guestworker Act.
This is a bill that House Judiciary Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-VA) is developing to address agricultural labor workforce issues. We haven’t seen the final version of this bill as the Judiciary Committee is still working on it, but we’re keeping a close eye on this proposal because Chairman Goodlatte is a serious legislator who is both motivated to improve our agricultural labor situation and is in a position to do something about it. What we do know about the bill is that it will replace the current guestworker visa program with one that is more workable for non-seasonal employers like the dairy industry, while increasing the availability of visas for agricultural labor.
IDFA members continue to express the need for a legal, robust and reliable workforce. We operate in a business of perishable products and with a milk supply that doesn’t come with an off button. Labor shortages aren’t just an inconvenience, they’re a threat to our businesses, and I don’t think I’m going too far out on a limb to suggest that current federal policies don’t address our concerns as an industry.
There may not be such a thing as a perfect immigration bill, but on the narrow issue of agricultural worker visas, IDFA is hopeful that we could see progress. That’s why we sent Chairman Goodlatte a letter thanking him for his leadership on this important issue and for considering the unique needs of our industry. You can be sure that we will continue to engage with the House Judiciary Committee as work continues on a guestworker bill.