By CHENQI GUO
Capital News Service
LANSING — Migrant workers may not get their housing inspected by the Department of Agriculture due to budget cuts.
The governor’s proposed state budget would eliminate funding for the Migrant Labor Housing Program and replace it with a $30 per occupant fee.
Without the proposed inspection fee or an alternative funding source, Agriculture will no longer conduct any migrant labor housing inspections.
“The program provides a critical service by helping to protect the health, safety and welfare of migrant laborers and their families,” said Jennifer Holton, public information officer for the Department of Agriculture.
“Without sufficient funding, the department will no longer be able to inspect more than 4,400 migrant housing units around the state, putting 22,000 migrants and their families at risk,” she said.
Denise Donohue, executive director of the Michigan Apple Committee in DeWitt ,said ,“It’ll be very bad for counties such as Grand Traverse County, Charlevoix County and Berrien County where most the apples come from.”
Quality housing helps attract migrant workers needed by Michigan’s growing agriculture industry, said Craig Anderson, manager of the Michigan Farm Bureau Agricultural Labor and Safety Services program.
Ruben Martinez, director of the Julian Samora Research Institute at Michigan State University said they live on the state farm and their children attend public schools in Michigan.
“Migrant laborers work seasonally, and their employment depends on whether the agriculture industry is in good shape.”
Holton said, “In the past, inspectors have identified cases of children playing in the waste of inadequate septic systems. Nationally, there have been deaths associated with children falling into uncovered wells and septic systems and migrant labor housing camps.”
“So, clearly the potential risks for injury or even death are significant without this program,” she said.
Without the inspection program, Michigan’s producers would be forced to either operate migrant labor camps without a license and risk large fines and penalties from the U.S. Department of Labor or allow approximately $2.3 billion in agricultural commodities like fruits and vegetable to rot in the field, according to Holton.
That could worsen the problem Michigan growers and farmers already face in hiring enough seasonal help, Donohue said.
“We are very worried about the apple industry because all the apples are picked by migrant workers. We need it to be done at state level,” Donohue said.
“Because the apple season is 10 weeks long, the apple growers usually have housing for migrant workers,” she said.
© 2010, Capital News Service, Michigan State University School of Journalism. Not to be reproduced without permission.