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The Daughter Of Farmworkers Wins $100K Prize To Help Her Community

Maria Blancas grew up the child of farmworkers and saw the impacts of their work in real-time. She even worked on farms when she was in high school picking apples and onion seeds. It wasn’t until she got to college that she realized how little people truly understood about her community and their lives. So, she dedicated her studies to the lives and conditions of farmworkers and it paid off.

Maria Blancas is a Ph.D student at the University of Washington’s School of Environmental and Forest Sciences.

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Blancas grew up with migrant farmworker parents from Mexico. She helped on the farms and watched as the other farmworkers dealt with the physical nature of the job. However, in her undergraduate years, according to The Seattle Times, Blancas realized people had oversimplified the lives and struggles of the people she was working with.

Blancas has dedicated her education to improve the lives of her family and all others working in the fields.

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According to The Seattle Times, Blancas wants to change the narrative around what is happening to the farmworkers’ community. Her aim is to create a fuller and more in-depth picture of the lives and “issues” within the community as the work in the fields.

Her work so far won her a $100,000 prize from the Bullitt Foundation to focus on furthering her work.

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The Bullitt Foundation aims to “safeguard the natural environment by promoting responsible human activities and sustainable communities in the Pacific Northwest,” according to the website.

In that effort, the foundation is giving Blancas a significant grant to allow her to focus on her work.

“When people ask me why I do the work that I do,” Blancas told The Seattle Times. “I always think about my family: mi familia.”

The Bullitt Prize is different than most awards and prizes.

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Bullitt Foundation President Denis Hayes told The Seattle Times that the prize a “reverse Nobel Peace Prize” in that it doesn’t reward people on their overall work. Instead, the foundation looks for people with potential and awards them at the early stages of their careers based on where their work could go.

Blancas has already done work within her community by surveying the community during her time working at the local community college.

The Seattle Times reports that Blancas noticed that some people would go to her community and conduct studies of the workers. However, the groups would leave and never share the results. So, Blancas teamed up with other researchers and did a survey of 350 farmworkers from Whatcom and Skagit to see what was happening, who they were, and what they needed.

Blancas and the team compiled the results of the study, called “Nothing About Us Without Us,” and shared them in a video.

The team discovered that “40 percent of the workers identified as indigenous peoples, mostly from Mexico, and about a quarter couldn’t read Spanish. Its findings, in keeping with academic conventions, quantified problems: 40 percent said they didn’t always have regular breaks, 20 percent lacked consistent access to water, and 60 percent hadn’t seen a doctor in the past year.”

Blancas is planning a dissertation that will incorporate video of farmworker testimonials.

Blancas will be hosting a workshop to teach farmworkers how to create the videos for the dissertation.

READ: A New Documentary Is Shedding Light On The Labor Organizer Who Fought For Farmworkers Before Dolores Huerta

Tech Companies Like Apple And Facebook Are Putting Billions Of Dollars Toward Affordable Housing, A Crisis They Created

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Tech Companies Like Apple And Facebook Are Putting Billions Of Dollars Toward Affordable Housing, A Crisis They Created

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It’s no hidden secret that affordable housing has become a growing crisis on the West Coast. Cities like San Jose, San Francisco, and Seattle have all seen tech giants come into communities and play a big role when it comes to the huge spike in the cost of living. While Apple, Facebook, Google, and Amazon have contributed to economic success in these areas, there is a large portion of middle and lower-class residents, mostly Latino and Blacks, who aren’t seeing any of that growth. With an increasing number of tech workers coming into these cities, rising home and rent costs have followed. That in return has created a housing crisis for many.

 In recent months, these tech companies have finally spoken up about the problem by pledging to spend money on building affordable housing in their respective communities. Back in June, Google announced $1 billion while Facebook pledged another $1 billion in October. Apple, earlier this month, said it would devote $2.5 billion. Yet there is increased skepticism and concerns that throwing money at this issue won’t solve anything. 

Tech companies like Google and Amazon have brought in billions of dollars in local tax revenue in cities like San Jose and Seattle. But that success has also created a housing issue for many that can’t afford to live there anymore. 

The rise of these giant tech companies has also meant a rise in the cost of living in the nearby cities that they’re located in. That is evident when looking at the economics of the housing markets and the number of people moving into these communities. Over the last decade, there was an 8.4 percent increase in the total population of the Bay Area, which includes San Francisco and San Jose, but during that same period, the number of housing units grew by less than 5 percent. 

Even as new homes are being built, the prices have become more of a reflection of the new demographic coming in. According to NBC, “Software engineers earn a starting salary of about $160,000 at Apple, Google, and Facebook, 40 percent more than the national average for the same job.”

Many middle-class Latinos and Black families have struggled to find affordable housing in these tech cities and as a result, many are now homeless.  

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The sight of homelessness and giant RV’s parked on city streets has become an image too familiar in San Jose as many have turned to living out of their cars. In the Bay Area, the issue of homelessness has only been expedited by the rise in home and rent prices which can be attributed to the tech industry in the area. As of now, the Bay Area has the third-largest population of people experiencing homelessness. Ahead of it is New York and Los Angeles, with Seattle just behind. 

What has become evident is that one specific population of people is benefitting from these economic and social gains while others has been somewhat been forgotten. Tamara Mitchell, a volunteer at the Coalition on Homelessness in San Francisco, is one of those that feels like the city has turned it’s back on people like her. 

“It kind of feels like they’re pushing you out of your home,” Mitchell told CNBC. “We’ve been homeless, we’ve been staying in hotels, we’ve been staying with family members – it’s been a lot.”

Making matters worse is the lack of opportunity for some when it comes to those trying to gain from the economic benefits in the area. When it comes to hiring, the most common demographic tech companies hired in 2018 were white and Asian male-identified individuals. Last year, Google employed 95 percent white or Asian individuals and 74 percent of those hired were male. The same trend followed at Apple as the same figures came in at 84 percent and 77 percent, respectively. In return, this has left most of the remaining jobs as lower-wage positions with limited opportunities with the majority of these roles being taken by Latinos and Blacks.  

“We’re being ignored,” Liz González, a contributor at Silicon Valley De-Bug, told CNBC about rising concerns of Google in the Bay Area. “We’re being displaced, and folks who have no long term interests in this community get to decide what it looks like and who gets to live here.”

As these tech companies have made a commitment to try and address the affordable housing crisis in their communities, many wonder if it’s enough or too late altogether. 

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As the more than $4.5 billion in corporate contributions towards affordable housing has been announced, money still may not be enough to fix the problem. Experts say addressing issues like rewriting zoning and permit regulations from local governments, building various housing options besides single-family homes and public transportation alternatives. 

What these tech companies have also realized is that retaining and attracting new employees will become an increasingly prominent issue as housing and rent prices continue to soar. While there is skepticism that affordable housing in the Bay Area and Seattle can be fixed in the near future, some are relieved to finally seeing tech companies acknowledge that there is a problem.

“I don’t think any tech company that has made these new announcements are really thinking their single contribution is solving the housing crisis,” said Kevin Zwick, CEO of Housing Trust Silicon Valley, told CBS. “It doesn’t solve the entire problem, but the fact that they’re joining is a big, important, positive step to getting us to solve the crisis.”

READ: There’s No Mexican Christmas Without Posadas: We Rounded Up 11 Facts About Them That You Probably Never Knew About

The House Just Introduced A Bipartisan Plan To Help Undocumented Farmworkers But Will The White House Support It?

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The House Just Introduced A Bipartisan Plan To Help Undocumented Farmworkers But Will The White House Support It?

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The United States’ agricultural business is largely ran on the back of undocumented foreign labor. In fact, more than 50% of those employed in agriculture are undocumented. That means there are more than a million people living in the shadows but who a vital part of delivering food to American households.

Not only do they live in the shadows for fear of deportation but many are even too afraid to access much needed healthcare or to speak out against employee abuse.

To help address these very real concerns, a bipartisan group of lawmakers have been quietly working out the details of a bill that could help.

The bipartisan bill was announced on Wednesday and may actually have a chance at being passed.

Lawmakers have struck a deal that would give legal status to hundreds of thousands of undocumented immigrant farmworkers in exchange for stronger employee verification in the agricultural sector.

Rep. Zoe Lofgren, D-San Jose, who chairs the immigration subcommittee of the Judiciary Committee, and Rep. Jimmy Panetta, D-Carmel Valley, led negotiations on the deal with Republican Reps. Doug LaMalfa of Richvale (Butte County) and Dan Newhouse of Washington state.

“The men and women who work America’s farms feed the nation. But, farmworkers across the country are living and working with uncertainty and fear, contributing to the destabilization of farms across the nation,” Lofgren said in a statement. “Our bill offers stability for American farms.”

If it passes the House, the bill still faces an uncertain future in the Senate. It’s also unclear whether President Trump will back it.

However, the bill would face a more uncertain fate in the Republican-controlled Senate.

If 20 Republicans are willing to put their names on the effort, it could show the reach of interest from the GOP side of the aisle to address a very specific portion of the immigrant workforce that is crucial to many of their districts’ economies.

In addition to Diaz-Balart’s participation in negotiations, another Republican at the table has been Rep. Dan Newhouse of Washington, according to two congressional sources.

The bill could offer hope to more than a million people across the US.

Hundreds of thousands of undocumented workers already in California could be eligible to get on a path to citizenship if the bill becomes law, and employers would be able to take advantage of the reformed visa process to hire new foreign workers legally.

If the bill can pass the House, one supporter in the Senate will be California Democrat Dianne Feinstein. She said in a statement provided to The Chronicle that she will work to try to pass the legislation in the upper chamber.

“Our broken immigration system has created shortages of farm labor across California and the rest of our country,” Feinstein said. “This bipartisan bill will fix that and bring farmworkers out of the shadows. It’s time we give farmers the help they need while protecting the hardworking people who put food on our tables.”

United Farm Workers, the union that represents agricultural workers, has come out in support of the bill.

According to a summary of the bill obtained by McClatchy, the so-called Farm Workforce Modernization Act would provide a pathway to legal status for undocumented immigrants who have already been working in the farm and agriculture industry for at least two years and plan to continue in this sector. 

It would make changes to the H2-A visa program, which farmers use to hire foreign nationals for seasonal agriculture work, to make it easier for employers to fill crucial workforce gaps while providing more protections for the workers themselves.

And as a sweetener for immigration hardliners, the measure would make E-Verify — the web-based system that allows businesses to confirm whether their employees are eligible to work in the United States — mandatory for the agriculture sector.

However, because of the expansion of the E-Verify system not everyone is on-board with the legislation.

“We are opposed to E-Verify in principle but as part of a compromise for legalization and more workers, it’d be a sacrifice worth making,” said Cato policy analyst David Bier. Bier said he had heard that “a bipartisan group is close to a deal” on the proposal.

Some farmworker advocates are lobbying to grant farmworkers legal status without requiring future E-Verify checks, while some Republicans want mandatory E-Verify use without granting legal status to any current workers.

A position paper from the Farm Bureau last year said the group would consider mandatory E-Verify in exchange for granting legal status to current workers and a better guest-worker visa program.