WASHINGTON — During the Summit of the Americas last week, the Biden administration and the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced that it would start a program with $65 million in funding to support agricultural employers around the country.

The agency plans to use money from the American Rescue Plan to help US workers and people hired from Northern Central American countries under the seasonal H-2A visa program.

The goal of the plan is to improve resiliency to the agricultural supply chain and help with domestic food security while addressing current labor shortages. The funding was part of the Los Angeles Declaration on Migration and Protection at the summit. 

“Even before the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, agricultural employers were struggling to secure a stable workforce,” the USDA said in a release. “The pandemic has only exacerbated this problem, threatening our domestic capacity to produce a safe and robust food supply. This pilot program will help address this shortage by expanding the potential pool of workers.”

The Biden administration added that the H-2A visa provides a lawful pathway for individuals from Central America to receive temporary or seasonal agricultural work. 

“An effective H-2A visa program is critical to the resiliency of the food and agricultural supply chain,” the USDA said. “This pilot program will aim to address challenges that both workers and employers face in utilizing the program.”

Improved working conditions for farmworkers was also a laid-out priority for the program.

USDA stated it would provide opportunities for stakeholder engagement as the program is developed. The agency also partnered with the United Farm Workers of America (UFW) through a technical assistance cooperative agreement.