Decreasing Access to Affordable Food and Healthcare Puts Hispanic Farmworkers in a Bind

August 5, 2014 by No Comments

The Affordable Care Act has been previously linked to a number of potential ill-effects, but could Obamacare actually cause higher food prices? A North Carolina Congresswoman has introduced a bill to exempt farmers from having to offer medical care to workers with temporary visas, reportedly in an effort to keep increased healthcare costs from affecting the price and quantity of available produce. However, this bill only compounds questions about the availability of quality, healthy food, particularly in regards to minority groups like the nation’s Hispanic population, the group most likely to be affected by both rising food prices and the healthcare exemption.

Republican North Carolina Congresswoman Renee Ellmers recently introduced The Fairness for Farmers Act (HR 5392), a bill that would exempt H-2A temporary visa holders from the Affordable Care Act’s health coverage requirement. Ellmers claims that while the employer mandate is not yet in effect, it has already caused food prices to rise dramatically and caused farmers to reduce production and jobs. She stated that the healthcare initiative would be particularly harsh to farmers of specialty crops such as sweet potatoes, tobacco, melons, berries and cucumbers, all of which are labor-intensive crops grown in North Carolina.

However, Ellmers’ bill raises more questions about the accessibility of food in the United States than it does about the Affordable Care Act. This is particularly true when it comes to Hispanic and Latino immigrants and citizens, who are disproportionately likely to hold H-2A temporary visas and also suffer from obesity and other health problems related to a lack of healthy food. As statistics show that affordable, nutritious food is slowly becoming more difficult to find across the United States, Latino and Hispanic workers seem to be stuck in a position with no possible victories: lacking healthcare, access to healthy food, and also the funds to acquire either.

According the U.S. Census Bureau, Latinos and Hispanics make up the largest minority group in the country. A significant number of this demographic survives by working in agriculture, particularly if the person is an immigrant: the National Center for Farmworker Health stated in an August 2012 report that 72% of all farmworkers were foreign born, with the majority of these workers originating in Mexico or other Central American countries. This group is also subject to a variety of health problems, with Latinos and Hispanics reportedly 1.2 times more likely than non-Hispanic whites to be obese. To explain this statistic, the NYU College of Nursing recently analyzed available literature on the food habits of Latina immigrant mothers, who the study reasoned were more likely to make meal choices for their families. The researchers found that a number of factors, including the prevalence of fast food, the costs of eating healthy, socioeconomic status, lack of transportation, and a lack of nutritional knowledge and education often served as barriers to healthy food patterns that can cause obesity and related illnesses.

Currently, various businesses and organizations are attempting to react, and even profit, to the lack of affordable nutritious food: Walmart executives, for example, have publicly announced plans to add 500 markets, which include grocery and produce sections, to their current roster of stores, focusing on states like Georgia, which have sizable Hispanic and Latino populations and large farming communities. Meanwhile, a number of organizations and communities are encouraging people of all races to combat food deserts at home by starting gardens of their own or joining community plots. Nearly half of all American households have reportedly attempted container gardening, a recent and growing trend in which vegetables, herbs, flowers and more are grown in pots rather than traditional gardens. This technique is known for its flexibility, creativity, and portability, features that make this form of gardening useful for families who need to grow vegetables at home instead of struggling to find them at affordable prices at local stores.

Given the effect Congresswoman Ellmer’s bill could have on a sizable percentage of the country, it is interesting to consider how changing population diversity could affect the success of these and similar measures. While minority populations have been increasing for years, immigrants particularly seem to be flocking to rural areas in Georgia and other Southern states. This transition has not been easy, as there are a number of laws in these states that require residents to prove their legal immigration status and right to work. However, with these Hispanic and Latino citizens demonstrating persuasive voting power in previous elections, politicians like Ellmer may soon have to reform their positions in order to appeal to their constituency. However, for the moment, affordable food and healthcare are occupying many of these future voters’ minds.

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