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A farmworker harvests lettuce on a farm in Coachella, California. Photo: Bing Guan/Bloomberg via Getty Images

The Department of Agriculture announced Tuesday that it will invest $700 million in grant funding to help farmworkers, meatpacking workers and front-line grocery workers cover health and safety costs incurred due to COVID-19.

Why it matters: The program expands pandemic agriculture aid, which has until now largely benefited farm owners, to include the primarily immigrant, low-income workforce, Bloomberg reports.

The big picture: The money will be made available through the new Farm and Food Workers Relief (FFWR) grant program and distributed by state agencies, Tribal entities and non-profit organizations serving farmworkers and meatpacking workers, per the press release.

  • The USDA will also set aside $20 million of the funding for a least one new pilot program aimed at helping front-line grocery workers.
  • Meatpacking plants were an early source of COVID-19 outbreaks last year, causing supply chain issues.
  • The funding can be used to offset expenses such as personal protective equipment, dependent care and costs related to quarantines and COVID-19 testing, according to the press release.

What they're saying: "[W]e recognize that our farmworkers, meat packing workers, and grocery workers overcame unprecedented challenges and took on significant personal risk to ensure Americans could feed and sustain their families throughout the pandemic," Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said in the press release.

  • “This is a reflection of the essential nature of the work they performed in the pandemic,” he added in a conference call with reporters, per Bloomberg.
  • “We now applaud the Biden-Harris Administration, Secretary Vilsack and USDA for recognizing the vital role of farm workers in the nation’s food security and economy, through this new program," Diana Tellefson Torres, Executive Director of the UFW Foundation, said in the press release.

Go deeper

Oct 22, 2021 - Health

Illinois mandates daycare workers to receive COVID vaccine or weekly testing

Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker speaks during a round table discussion with high school students in October 2018. Photo: Joshua Lott/Getty Images

Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker (D) announced Friday that all daycare workers in the state will be required to receive the COVID-19 vaccine or or submit to weekly testing.

Driving the news: Pritzker said he was issuing the requirement to protect "babies, toddlers, and young children not yet eligible for the vaccine."

Oct 22, 2021 - Health

CDC director: U.S. may change definition of "fully vaccinated" as boosters roll out

CDC Director Rochelle Walensky. Photo: Greg Nash-Pool/Getty Images

Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said Friday the U.S. "may need to update" its definition for what it means to have full vaccination against COVID.

The big picture: The CDC and the FDA have officially approved boosters with every authorized vaccine in the U.S. for people who meet specific requirements. Walensky explained that since not everyone is eligible for a booster, the definition has not been changed "yet."

"Atmospheric river" swings Northern California from drought to flood

Satellite view of the bomb cyclone swirling off the coast of the Pacific Northwest and the atmospheric river affecting California on Oct. 24. Photo: CIRA/RAMMB

A series of powerful "atmospheric river" storms are delivering historic amounts of rainfall across parts of drought-stricken California and the Pacific Northwest.

Why it matters: The atmospheric river, packing large amounts of moisture, was causing Northern California to whiplash from drought to flood, as it slowly moved south overnight. It's triggered widespread power outages, flooding and mudslides.