'We’re Scared': These 'Essential' Farmworkers Have Little Protection from Coronavirus

Beyond exposure to the virus, over half of the country’s farmworkers aren’t receiving any federal support.
April 24, 2020, 10:46pm

Emmi De La Cruz has been following fruit harvests in the U.S. for 19 years. She’s a seasonal worker from Mexico, currently picking blueberries in Plant City, Florida. She carries with her a letter designating her “essential” in case she’s stopped for violating a stay-at-home order. But like so many of the estimated 2.5 million farmworkers who keep our food supply going, she has no health insurance or access to government benefits, and the conditions at her “essential” work aren’t always safe and sanitary.

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“We’re scared,” De La Cruz said. “But it’s our livelihood. We have to do it.”

Beyond possible exposure to the coronavirus, over half of the country’s farmworkers aren’t receiving any federal support: Federal stimulus checks are not available to workers who are undocumented, or to those who file taxes with someone who is. An estimated 60 percent of farmworkers are undocumented, according to University of California Davis.

“I have my two children, ages 5 and 8, and they’re like, ‘Mommy, why are you working? Aren't you afraid of catching the coronavirus?’" she said. "I’m like, ‘Yes, but let’s hope nothing bad happens to us.”

Yet, as crop and livestock prices drop because of lower demand and fewer markets during the pandemic, De La Cruz’s bigger concern is having any work at all. The price of blueberries, for instance, has dropped by nearly half, forcing farmers to fire the hand-pickers and leave fruit in the fields.

De La Cruz’s hours in the fields have been cut. After Florida, she and her family typically go on to Michigan for another harvest. She fears she'll lose work there, too. “We’re just trying to survive, like we’ve always done.”