Central Valley farmworkers to receive relief through $18 million in federal grants

FRESNO, Calif. (KFSN) -- Local, state, and federal officials came together in Fresno today to announce further drought assistance for the Central Valley.

Their focus is bringing people back to work, mainly farmworkers who have unsteady hours or lost their jobs altogether.

"$18 million to assist folks, primarily in our Valley, who have been most impacted and devastated by this four years of drought conditions," said Representative Jim Costa (D-Fresno).

The funding comes from the federal government, two months after Congressman Costa's meeting with U.S. Secretary of Labor Thomas Perez, who Costa says decided more help was needed to get more people back to work.

"For the federal government, two months (and) getting $18 million freed up is moving pretty fast," said U.S. Department of Labor Representative Leo Kay.

From the state's perspective, the millions are much-needed for the Central Valley to help fix what they say is chronic unemployment here.

"This is one of the areas in our state that has the highest numbers of unemployment, and the workers in this area deserve a little bit of support," said California Employment Development Director Patrick Henning.

$14 million will go towards La Cooperative Campesina, which provides job training to migrant seasonal farmworkers. Ernie Flores of the Central Valley Opportunity Center says more than 1,000 jobs will be created with that money, ranging from city public works projects to state firefighting efforts. Each of those will last six months and bring $14,000 into a worker's household, he says.

"We've done this before, we've been first responders and created this same type of program, these same type of alternative jobs for every major freeze and fire and flood in the state of California," Flores said.

This is a drought, and though it's more slow-moving than other natural disasters, Community Food Bank Programs Manager Natalie Caples says the number of people they serve is quickly changing. She says there's been a 45% increase since the drought food assistance program began last year.

But despite being grateful for the help, she says most farmworkers would rather put food on the table with their own money.

"Work provides us with pride, and I think that they just want to be contributing members and they would rather be working," she said.

Congressman Costa says this funding, while entirely necessary, is not a substitute for fixing a broken water system, adding that California needs comprehensive and bipartisan water legislation.
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