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Agencies issue new H-2A rule, update details of CFAP

Issue Date: January 20, 2021
By Kevin Hecteman

Agricultural employers and producers whose income has suffered as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic may be affected by streamlined and expanded federal rules announced late last week.

The U.S. Department of Labor announced a final rule Friday it said would modernize the H-2A visa program, which allows farmers and ranchers facing a labor shortage to hire nonimmigrant employees on a seasonal or temporary basis.

The new rule mandates electronic filing of job orders and applications, and allows the use of electronic signatures. The Labor Department said the mandate is intended to reduce costs and burdens for most employers and reduce delays related to deficient applications. The rule also mandates electronic distribution of notices, requests and approved job orders among state workforce agencies and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

Smaller employers who need help but can't offer full-time employment to H-2A employees would be able to participate by filing a joint application and job order with other employers in similar situations, allowing them to collectively hire H-2A visa holders.

Employers also would be able to stagger the U.S. entry dates of their H-2A employees during a 120-day period, meaning they would only have to file one application for different start dates within a certified employment period. Previously, separate applications for different start dates were required.

The department said standards for rental housing and surety bonds would be strengthened, and that its authority to punish violations of program rules would be expanded.

Before hiring H-2A visa holders, farmers and ranchers must prove they tried to recruit U.S. residents and were not able to find enough Americans willing to take the jobs, and that bringing in H-2A visa holders would not adversely affect the wages and working conditions of Americans employed in similar jobs.

For more information on the H-2A program, including how to apply, see www.dol.gov/agencies/eta/foreign-labor/programs/h-2a. The new rule will be published in the Federal Register at a later date; the preliminary final rule may be read at www.dol.gov/sites/dolgov/files/ETA/oflc/pdfs/H-2A-2020-final-rule-1_8_2021-Clean-with-disclaimer.pdf.

In a separate action, the U.S. Department of Agriculture announced expanded eligibility for some producers and commodities under the Coronavirus Food Assistance Program, as well as payment updates for certain farmers and ranchers who have already applied.

Contract producers of pork, broilers, laying hens, chicken eggs and turkeys who suffered a drop in revenue in 2020 because of the pandemic are now eligible for assistance, USDA said, and could receive as much as 80% of their revenue loss, depending on funding availability.

Producers of pullets and turfgrass sod are now eligible for CFAP payments; these commodities were not originally part of the CFAP-2 rule.

The USDA Farm Service Agency updated the payment calculation for producers who have applied under CFAP-2.

FSA said it will now use the producer's eligible sales, crop-insurance indemnities, Noninsured Crop Disaster Assistance Program and Wildfire and Hurricane Indemnity Program Plus payments for the calendar year 2019, multiplied by the applicable payment rate. This applies to specialty crops, specialty livestock, nursery crops and aquaculture.

Producers of row crops such as corn, sunflowers, upland cotton and wheat also saw a payment adjustment for cases where the farmer had crop insurance but did not have the 2020 Actual Production History approved yield available. In this case, FSA said it will use all of the 2019 Agriculture Risk Coverage-County Option benchmark yield to calculate the payment.

Producers of these commodities who applied during the sign-up period that ended Dec. 11 have until Feb. 26 to modify an existing application.

FSA is also providing an additional CFAP-1 inventory payment for swine, intended to help farmers who face continuing market disruptions from changes in U.S. meat consumption due to the pandemic.

For more information, and to apply or update a previous application, see www.farmers.gov/cfap or contact a local USDA Service Center.

(Kevin Hecteman is an assistant editor of Ag Alert. He may be contacted at khecteman@cfbf.com.)

Permission for use is granted, however, credit must be made to the California Farm Bureau Federation when reprinting this item.




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