Huizenga leads call for policy fix around H-2A workers’ pay rate

U.S. Rep. Bill Huizenga (R-MI) led 119 of his colleagues in voicing concerns about the annual adjustment to the Adverse Effect Wage Rate (AEWR), which is the minimum hourly wage that employers must pay to H-2A workers in the United States.

The members — who included the majority of the House Republican Conference plus 10 House Democrats — want the fiscal year 2025 appropriations bill to either prohibit funds from being used to implement a wage larger than the January 2023 wage rate, or to maintain the H-2A wage rates at January 2023 levels. 

“Now in 2024, the H-2A labor rates paid by agricultural employers have become more unaffordable, and it will certainly increase in 2025 as well. The new rates put further financial strain on farm operations of all sizes, and we urge you to include an H-2A wage freeze in fiscal year 2025 appropriations legislation,” wrote Rep. Huizenga and his colleagues in a May 21 letter sent to U.S. House appropriations leaders.

Such a simple policy fix, they wrote, would help lower input costs for the agricultural community and save family farms across the nation. 

“If we do nothing, many of our constituents will be forced to shutter their businesses, despite good-faith efforts to ensure our national food security and feed families across our nation,” wrote the members, adding that the national average AEWR has more than doubled over the past two decades, making agricultural guest labor unaffordable for farm employers and resulting in higher consumer costs.

While the AEWR varies by region, nearly half of all states this year have an AEWR between $17 and $19 per hour, while producers in Canada pay closer to $11 per hour for fieldworkers, or even roughly $1.50 per hour in Mexico, according to their letter.

“This uneven playing field greatly disadvantages our domestic producers,” they wrote, and for farmers and ranchers who use H-2A, the rising AEWR will only compound inflated input costs like energy and fertilizer, other guest worker expenses like transportation and housing, and impending federal regulations and fees. 

“USDA data shows that hired farm labor costs account for nearly 15 percent of total cash expenses,” wrote the lawmakers. “More labor-intensive industries will be hardest-hit, including specialty crop growers, who already spend nearly 40 percent of their total cash expenses on labor alone.”