Farmworker Assistance Program Gets $3 Million Boost After Ventura County Sees High Demand
The Ventura County Board of Supervisors approved $3.65 million to provide financial assistance to farmworkers during the coronavirus pandemic after seeing high demand for the Farmworker Household Assistance Program.
The program, approved Tuesday, will provide one-time grants of $1,000 for low-income farmworker families who were financially impacted by COVID-19. Many of Ventura County’s farmworkers are undocumented and thus ineligible for assistance programs like unemployment or federal stimulus checks.
The Board initially approved the program in September, with plans of funding the program through a combination of private donations and the county’s General Fund. The Ventura County Community Foundation is accepting donations through the Farmworker Household Assistance Program Fund, and the county initially planned on matching the donated amount up to $250,000.
But the number of applications exceeded expectations, with 4,000 people applying before the application period closed on Sept. 30.
“We thought we would get several hundred, but not several thousand,” said Ellen Brokaw, president of the Brokaw Ranch Co. and founding chair of House Farm Workers. “Even though farmworkers are essential and still working, our vegetable crops and berries were more severely impacted than I realized, and that meant cutbacks in hours and job losses, as well as people needing to stay home to provide childcare, and many farmworkers are always on the edge of not being able to pay their bills anyway.”
This high level of need prompted the county to authorize $3.65 million in federal Coronavirus Relief Fund money for the program. This additional funding will allow all eligible applicants to receive $1,000. The goal is to provide families with the payments by the end of this year, according to Marleen Canniff, communications manager for the county’s Human Services Agency.
“We’re seeing a great need for this help, and there are so many farmworkers that have fallen so far behind financially that this funding will help their families put food on their own tables after they work every day to grow, harvest and distribute food for all of our tables,” said Canniff.
The program initially planned to provide one-time payments of $1,200, but this amount was lowered to $1,000 in order to fund all eligible applicants.
“It isn’t a long-term solution but it will help a little,” said Brokaw.
The Ventura County Community Foundation anticipates raising $400,000 in private funding for the program, exceeding the initial goal of $250,000. According to Brokaw, the $400,000 and initial commitment of $250,000 in matching funds from the county would have only provided funding for about 433 families.
“Instead, with the generosity of the Board of Supervisors we’ll now be able to cover 4,000 families,” she said.
The idea for the Farmworker Household Assistance Program grew out of weekly Zoom meetings between agricultural employers, farmworker advocacy groups and the county. The groups have met weekly since March to discuss how they can address farmworkers’ needs during the pandemic.
The county’s Farmworker Resource Program conducted outreach about the program, with materials in English and Spanish as well as the indigenous languages of Mixtec, Zapotec and Purépecha.
About 41% of applicants are Spanish speakers and 37% speak Mixteco, according to Canniff. The majority of applicants live in Oxnard, with 88% of applications from Oxnard and 10% from Santa Paula, Port Hueneme, Fillmore and Ventura.
About 96% of applicants made less than 50% of the area median income for at least three months between January and June 2020.
Those interested in donating to the program can visit www.vccf.org/FHAP.