Lawmaker calls for governor to allocate federal relief funds for chile farmers

Politics - Government

Green Chile (Courtesy: ABQ Free Images)

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (KRQE) – As soon as the smell fills the air, you know green chile season is upon us. However, this year, New Mexico farmers are having a hard time finding enough workers to bring in the harvest. Now, lawmakers on both sides of the aisle are calling on the governor to do something about it.

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Local chile farmers said the need for help is dire. “If we don’t figure out some solutions here, our pride and joy is going to be gone,” chile farmer Glen Duggins of Lemitar said.

This season is rough for local chile farmers. “We are either going to pull through, or New Mexico is going to lose their chile industry,” Duggins said.

Duggins has been farming for nearly 40 years. Duggins said in a normal year, he has around 20 workers on the farm. As of this morning, he had one. “I am doing jobs on the farm I haven’t done in many years trying to fill jobs we can’t find people to fill,” Duggins said.

Lawmakers said this paints the picture of the industry statewide. Democratic Sen. George Munoz said New Mexico usually has 3,000 chile workers. Now, we are down to 1,400. He points to unemployment benefits being too high and said chile prices could soar this season as a result. “Last year, it was $26 for a box,” Munoz said. “Without having help in the industry and them having to subsidize that, you may see chile as high as $50 a box.”

Munoz is calling on the governor to allocate $6 million in federal relief funds to fix the problem. The funds would help raise workers’ wages above $20 an hour to surpass the unemployment assistance many are currently receiving. “Keep prices down, bring up wages, employ people…”

Republican Sen. Crystal Diamond said she supports Munoz’s call. Diamond said the governor needs to end supplemental employment benefits immediately. They are expected to expire next month. “Unfortunately, the chile harvest window will be closed by then,” Diamond said. “It will not save this industry. This is not just New Mexico farmers suffering from this labor shortage, but restaurants, retail, and small businesses are unfairly competing with unemployment.”

Duggins said he needs a solution fast. “We are in a huge crunch,” Duggins said. “If they don’t do something, this industry is going to die.”

Duggins said he doesn’t blame it all on unemployment benefits. He also believes the immigration policy is broken and fewer people are willing to do physical work.

The governor said labor issues have been a problem in agriculture for a long time, and the pandemic has only exacerbated that. The governor is considering a range of potential actions to support the state’s signature crop including assigning federal stimulus funds to support temporary wage supplements for farmworkers.

Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham’s Office released the following statement:

As anyone in the industry will tell you, labor has been an issue in agriculture for a long time; the pandemic has only exacerbated the problem. The labor market all across the United States is in the process of undergoing structural changes, particularly with respect to wages – that has manifested itself across various industries, including agriculture, in many states. It is worth repeating there is no evidence whatsoever to support the partisan assertion that the federal unemployment supplement is somehow singlehandedly driving or solely responsible for workforce re-entry issues in this state or any other. As I said, the governor is considering a range of potential actions that would both demonstrate the state’s support for its signature crop and provide short-term relief to the industry including the possibility of assigning federal stimulus funds to support temporary wage supplements for farm workers, among other ideas under discussion.

Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham’s Office

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