Supporting Those Who Fuel Our State: Farmworkers - United Ways of California

Supporting Those Who Fuel Our State: Farmworkers

Friday, March 29, 2024

Read time: 5 minutes

In California, we rely on farmworkers for the food that fuels our state and economy. However, many farmworkers—particularly those from immigrant communities—are paying into our tax system but are not receiving taxpayer benefits. For example, ITIN (Individual Taxpayer Identification Number) holders are not eligible for federal tax credits like the Earned Income Tax Credit and weren’t eligible for recent stimulus payments. In 2020, thanks to successful advocacy efforts by United Ways of California and our partners, California expanded eligibility for the California Earned Income Tax Credit and Young Child Tax Credit to make them available to ITIN holders, but a lack of similar programs at the federal level paired with the high cost of living in California still leave a significant gap. Additionally, those who fall below the income threshold requiring people to file taxes might not even be aware that tax credits can put cash directly in their pockets.

Outreach to connect farmworkers to programs and resources requires a lot of trust-building. While not all farmworkers are immigrants, many are. For those who are concerned about their immigration status or who come from countries where they could not trust the government, government programs may seem suspicious. It is important that people and institutions who are already trusted in the community play a role in outreach to farmworkers; these trusted messengers can help workers learn what is available to them in a way they can trust. It is also valuable, whenever possible, to partner with employers to provide resources and services directly on site.

United Ways across California are committed to bridging the financial gaps many households are experiencing in today’s economic climate. Our investment in this work helps advance equity and economic inclusion to alleviate some of the financial burdens California farmworkers are facing by providing cash support to eligible households across the state.

As part of this work, the California United Way network is committed to supporting farmworkers. A few examples include:

  • Powered by a USDA grant and local United Way partners, through the Farm and Food Worker Relief program, we have provided payments to more than 47,000 farmworkers who powered the agricultural industry during the pandemic.
  • Some local United Ways go directly to farm sites to provide education, outreach, and programming.
  • 211 can provide farmworkers with local resources relevant to them.

Farm and Food Worker Relief (FFWR) Program

Over the past year, United Ways of California has been working with 15 local United Way partners across the state to provide $600 cash payments to front-line farm and food workers.

The Farm and Food Worker Relief (FFWR) program has been made possible by a grant from the United States Department of Agriculture with funding appropriated by the U.S. Congress. The program provides cash relief to agricultural workers for the hardship endured during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The program has allowed local United Ways to collaborate with an array of local agencies—including government offices, private companies, and community-based organizations—on outreach efforts and helping workers apply for the program.

Some of our most successful efforts include partnering with local employers to open their sites, provide direct in-person application assistance, and support getting employment verifications.

To date through this program, local United Way partners have reached over 100,000 families, processed nearly 60,000 applications, and made over 47,000 payments—more than $28 million! This is helping expand United Ways of California’s efforts to support families in need and is opening new opportunities to serve the immigrant community with other programs and services. 

Tax Education and Outreach

Tax partners across the state have been doing direct outreach to farm workers as a key component of their tax education and outreach, to ensure this important group of workers gets access to tax credits they are eligible for and entitled to through free tax prep.

For years, local organizations like United Way of Central Eastern California and United Way Fresno and Madera Counties have been going to the fields to meet potential clients where they are. Not only has this helped farmworkers in these communities access free tax help, but it has also connected them to other programs and resources they may be eligible for, like FFWR. This sustained work to develop relationships with this community and work sites helps build trust that results in the ability to serve farmworkers even better as time goes on.

United Way of Central Eastern California shared that, to date, in mobile free tax preparation assistance locations, clients have qualified for a total of about $65,000 through the California Earned Income Tax Credit (CalEITC). Many clients are farmworkers. Individuals and families who receive credits through refunds often share that they spend the additional income on goods and services to meet their basic needs.

They shared a story of one client who had less income in 2023 than the previous year due to lack of employment opportunities in the fields. She qualified for CalEITC, and her total tax refund was over $1,000. She was extremely grateful and happy to share that she would be able to use the money to pay her rent and buy food for the following month.

Stimulus payments during the pandemic had similar impact. Another farmworker in Kern County shared that, thanks to the Golden State Stimulus payment, her family was able to pay all their bills that month and, for a change, didn’t have to worry about making hard decisions about which basic necessities to cover that month. “That was a big weight off of us. It was just amazing,” she shared. 

United Ways’ Commitment to Continuing to Support Farmworkers

“As a staff member of an organization that advocates for farmworkers, I’ve had the honor of listening to many of their stories. When my mother began picking grapes, I saw firsthand how exhausting the work was for her, but she nevertheless was proud of her contribution to society. The least we can do is reciprocate care for those who feed the world. It’s our responsibility to ensure their stories are heard, rights are protected, and labor is compensated fairly.” 

– Azra Joy, Kern County, United Ways of California Ambassador

This National Farmworkers’ Day and Cesar Chavez Day, United Ways of California celebrates the important contributions of farmworkers in fueling our state and fighting for their rights. We commit to continuing to work to bridge the financial gaps many households are experiencing and, through both programming and advocacy, advance equity and economic inclusion to alleviate some of the financial burdens California farmworkers face.

Tax education and outreach like what is mentioned in this piece is made possible by state funding, which is set to be cut in half next year. Tell California leaders that you care about funding this important work by filling out this quick form 

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