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Department of Agriculture puts out new guidelines for farm labor during COVID-19 crisis

Farmers who house their workforce must meet social distancing and CDC standards, provide masks and more.

HARRISBURG, Pa. — Pennsylvania houses more than 360 Seasonal Farm Labor Camps via permits with nearly 4,300 workers. A good majority of these workers are migrant workers under the H-2A program for temporary workers.

As the COVID-19 crisis continues, the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture issued new guidelines Tuesday for those who house their farm workers. The department's guidelines are supplemental to those already ordered by Governor Tom Wolf and Pennsylvania Department of Health Secretary Dr. Rachel Levine.

"To ensure we keep agriculture moving, plants planted and food being processed... it takes a healthy and protected workforce," Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture Secretary Russell Redding said.

Many standards set forth already apply from the Seasonal Farm Labor Act.

"Set standards for work, living quarters, occupancy, camp sanitization, food facilities, fire protection and overall safety for farm workers," Redding said.

Others are set from those that employers should be following directly from CDC guidance--including six feet in between beds, laborers sleeping from head-to-toe, ensuring restrooms are stocked with soap, drying clothes and sanitizer, and that high contact areas are regularly cleaned by a person assigned to that area. According to the Department of Agriculture, employers must also provide cloth masks to their workers.

The costs of these adjustments for employers is expected to be minimal, according to the department. As of now, no additional funding is heading their way.

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"The belief is that the work that they would normally do to accommodate these workers at this point are all things they can accommodate without additional funding," Sec. Redding said.

Furthermore, if a worker is diagnosed with COVID-19, it is the expectation of the Department of Agriculture that the worker will still be paid.

"If someone is COVID-19 positive, they are not negatively impacted on their wages," Redding said.

And should someone be diagnosed as COVID-19 positive, Secretary Redding admitted that while this could be the hardest part of housing farm workers, an employer must have separate housing with separate cooking, cleaning and bathing facilities for the COVID-19 positive worker.

“We will have our food safety inspectors in the field monitoring the guidance. We would have the expectation that they would do everything they can to implement this guidance," Redding said.

For more information on these new guidelines from the Department of Agriculture, you can visit the department's website.