On the same day Yolo County’s Board of Supervisors declared March 31 César Chávez day, the board received an update on what the county is doing to support its farmworkers, so many of whom worked throughout the pandemic to feed so many.
Previous surveys of local farmworkers have indicated food security and housing are among the biggest needs, and efforts continue to address both. But one thing the county has accomplished is a financial assistance program approved by the board that used American Rescue Plan funds to provide $1,000 grants to 200 farmworkers.
The demand for that assistance was great. The county opened the application process for those grants on the morning of Feb. 1 and by noon, some 300 applications had come in, according to Tanya Provencher of the county’s Health & Human Services Agency.
The screening process that ensued led to 200 of those applicants receiving $1,000 pre-paid MasterCards on March 7.
Criteria for approval included being currently unemployed but with proof of past work in agriculture in Yolo County. Those that didn’t qualify, either because they were working at the time or didn’t live in the county, were directed to other local resources, said Rodrigo Lopez, the county’s agriculture labor coordinator.
And while those $1,000 grants were huge for the 200 recipients, more work needs to be done to assist the county’s farmworkers, officials said.
Asked by Supervisor Jim Provenza of Davis what gaps remain, Lopez said housing and food security remain
“A lot of our farmworkers are dealing with a lot of housing necessities,” said Lopez. “Some families are doubled up. A lot of the low-income places have a long waitlist. So housing is number one.”
Also food security, he said.
“It’s interesting that they work and feed the whole world,” Lopez said of farmworkers, but they also sometimes need help buying basic staples.
“We refer them to our food bank and other resources in the community,” he said, and connect those who qualify to Cal-Fresh.
Said Provenza: “I would like to look at what more we can do in these two areas. I know we have efforts on housing and for food security, but particularly for farmworkers going forward.”
In addition to the financial assistance, the county’s program for farmworkers has also been conducting outreach and referrals, Provencher said.
“We launched a website and the farmworker resource guide,” she said. That guide includes information on local housing, food, employment and public assistance and a hotline connects farmworkers directly with Lopez.
Lopez himself said that while efforts over the last few months have been focused on the financial assistance program, “we’ve noticed that a lot of families have different needs. Employment is one of them.
“During the off-season, a lot of farmworkers either move to a different city or they’re unemployed, so a lot of them request help with employment,” he said.
His office is working to connect those individuals to employment center assistance.
County supervisors praised the efforts so far, with Supervisor Angel Barajas, who represents the county’s largely rural 5th District, saying, “amazing work” has been done.
“(I’m) very proud that we have a worker assistance program in Yolo County,” said Provenza.
The board also unanimously approved a resolution proclaiming March 31 César Chávez Day in the county, presenting the proclamation to Lopez.
In receiving the declaration, Lopez said, “like many others in this county, my father came to this country and worked in agriculture as a farmworker to be successful and provide to his family.
“César Chávez … brought awareness and fought for respect and human rights for all laborers. The fact that we are standing here, acknowledging his work in 2023 and the work of our agricultural workforce in Yolo County, means a lot to our community,” he said.
“I am a product of César Chávez and proud to serve and continue the legacy and support of the farm working community. Sí se puede.”