Lawmaker calls on governor to allocate federal relief funds to Chilean farmers
ALBUQUERQUE, NM (KRQE) – As soon as the smell fills the air, you know green chili season is upon us. However, this year, New Mexico farmers are struggling to find enough workers to harvest. Now lawmakers on both sides of the aisle are calling on the governor to do something.
Local Chilean farmers said the need for help was urgent. “If we don’t find solutions here, our pride and joy will disappear,” said Chilean farmer Glen Duggins of Lemitar.
This season is tough for local Chilean farmers. “We’re either going to get out of this or New Mexico is going to lose its Chilean industry,” Duggins said.
Duggins has been a farmer for almost 40 years. Duggins said in a typical year he had around 20 workers on the farm. Since this morning, he had one. “I do farm work that I haven’t done in many years trying to fill jobs that we can’t find people to fill,” Duggins said.
Lawmakers said it paints the picture of the industry statewide. Democratic Senator George Munoz said New Mexico typically has 3,000 Chilean workers. Now we are at 1,400. He points out that unemployment benefits are too high and that prices in Chile could skyrocket this season as a result. “Last year it was $ 26 for a box,” Munoz said. “Without having any help in the industry and without them having to subsidize that, you can see Chile going up to $ 50 a box.”
Munoz calls on the governor to allocate $ 6 million in federal relief funds to resolve the problem. The funds would help raise workers’ wages above $ 20 an hour to exceed the unemployment assistance many now receive. “Keep prices low, increase wages, employ people …”
Republican Senator Crystal Diamond has said she supports Munoz’s call. Diamond said the governor should end the additional benefits immediately. They are expected to expire next month. “Unfortunately, Chile’s harvest window will be closed by then,” Diamond said. “It won’t save this industry. It’s not only New Mexico farmers who are suffering from this labor shortage, but restaurants, retail stores and small businesses are competing unfairly with unemployment. ”
Duggins said he needed a solution quickly. “We are in a huge crisis,” Duggins said. “If they don’t do anything, this industry is going to die.”
Duggins said he didn’t blame everything on unemployment benefits. He also believes immigration policy is being broken and fewer people are willing to do physical labor.
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 series of potential actions to support the state’s flagship culture, including earmarking federal stimulus funds to support temporary wage supplements for farm workers.