Part of the Farmworker Advocacy Network Disaster Preparedness Toolkit
Farmworkers face unique challenges in recovering from natural disasters
The financial hit of a hurricane particularly impacts farmworkers, who earn low wages. According to 2015-2016 data, U.S. farmworkers who are not part of the H-2A program earn on average between $17,500 and $19,999 each year, and one-third of U.S. farmworkers have family incomes below the federal poverty line.
Tornado season in NC, which runs from March to May, coincides with NC’s berry harvest and peak planting season for crops such as tobacco, cucumbers, and sweet potatoes. Hurricane season begins in June and continues through November, the period of the growing and harvest season of tobacco and fruits and vegetables including cucumbers, melons, peppers, squash, and sweet potatoes. Most NC farmworkers do not qualify for unemployment benefits or paid time off, so when a disaster destroys field crops, lost work days means lost wages for farmworkers. Crops that are not destroyed, but merely damaged, may yield less pay if farmworkers are paid by the piece rate, the number of buckets or bags harvested of a given crop.
Many immigrant farmworkers are ineligible for government disaster benefits like disaster unemployment insurance, which is limited to non-H-2A workers with work authorization, or FEMA disaster assistance, which is only available to citizens, legal permanent residents, or qualified aliens. Even farmworkers who qualify for assistance to help them rebuild or replace housing might lack proof that they are the owner or renter of their housing. Finally, those farmworkers that are eligible for benefits o0en face challenges accessing government agencies because of linguistic and cultural barriers.