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Ohio’s Governor and Department of Health have, in many respects, set an example for many states in how to address the COVID-19 crisis. However, their response has so far been lacking in one critical area of our economy and society: a failure to take decisive and immediate action to protect the safety of agricultural workers. 

There are tens of thousands of agricultural workers in Ohio. Many of them, and their families, live in Ohio year-round, and others come to Ohio during growing seasons. Their work keeps our shelves stocked and food on our table. They harvest crops by hand and work in packing sheds, slaughterhouses, grading stations, and food processing plants throughout the state. Thanks to these workers, food and agriculture is the number one industry in Ohio, adding more than $124 billion to the economy each year. 

Like in many states, Ohio’s agricultural workers face barriers to essential services and basic health and safety standards. Crowded, barrack-style farmworker housing, a lack of handwashing facilities in individual units, and difficulty in accessing free testing and care, all conspire to expose these low-wage workers and their families to COVID-19.  

We call on the Governor and state officials to take action NOW to protect farmworkers and our entire food supply chain:

  • Enact basic safety mandates similar to the mandates issued for 27 other industries in Ohio to protect the health and well being of farmworkers;
  • Direct resources to support farmers with funding to provide temporary housing for workers who become sick with COVID-19 so that they can safely quarantine;
  • Provide funds to migrant-serving organizations and other groups that serve the needs of marginalized community members to conduct culturally and linguistically appropriate outreach to farmworkers;
  • Earmark funds for rural health clinics to ensure migrant workers and their families get the care they need; and
  • Expand testing to provide seasonal and migratory workers with free testing to detect the virus and provide needed treatment.

By adopting these measures, Ohio has the opportunity to continue to set the example for states across the country in safeguarding agricultural workers, their families, and the nation’s farming economy.