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California lawmakers propose more protections for farm workers impacted by coronavirus

The proposed California Farmworker Covid-19 Relief Package offers more protections and assistance for workers.

STOCKTON, Calif. — Field work keeps his family fed.

Jose Hernandez, an undocumented 32-year-old farm worker speaking through a translator, said he can't afford to stop working. 

"The options I have are almost none because I'm the only one that works and I'm working out here without a status," Hernandez said through a translator. "I have to work. I can't receive what a lot of people receive, unemployment, the checks that the federal government sends out."

The Stockton father of two is among hundreds of thousands of essential California farm workers vulnerable to COVID-19 outbreaks. State lawmakers are now saying farm workers need to be better protected. 

"If these outbreaks persist, they worsen, our food supply will be impacted," Assemblymember Robert Rivas, D-Hollister, said. 

In the proposed California Farmworker Covid-19 Relief Package OSHA outreach would and agricultural workplace investigations be expanded, telehealth access would be improved, and would increase funding for farm work housing tax credits

It's a broad approach, aimed at tackling challenges low-wage farm workers like Hernandez face, including access to health care.

"Sometimes a lot of the coworkers, even though they have symptoms, from a fever or something, they don't want to stop because they don't want to go to a clinic because it's expensive and they don't have insurance," Hernandez said.

Lawmakers and experts say many farm-worker families live in close quarters to save money, plus ride together to fields, making social distancing difficult. The lack of affordable housing, advocates say, predates the pandemic. 

"It is a humanitarian crisis in our agricultural communities," Rivas said.

The package of bills passed the California State Assembly and awaits the State Senate.

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