Farm hous­ing rule tar­geted

Crit­ics say ‘50-mile’ reg­u­la­tion up­roots mi­grant work­ers’ chil­dren from schools.

Los Angeles Times - - CALIFORNIA - By Jazmine Ul­loa

SACRAMENTO — More than 30 com­mu­nity or­ga­ni­za­tions and ad­vo­cates are ramp­ing up ef­forts to re­verse a California hous­ing rule that they say up­roots the chil­dren of mi­grant farm­work­ers from their schools twice a year, caus­ing them to fall be­hind and of­ten drop out.

The reg­u­la­tion from the California Depart­ment of Hous­ing and Com­mu­nity De­vel­op­ment, known as the “50-mile rule,” re­quires farm­work­ers to clear out of state-run mi­grant camps at the end of a grow­ing sea­son and move more than 50 miles away. On Wed­nes­day, farm­worker ad­vo­cates and non­prof­its, in­clud­ing the Center for Farm­worker Fam­i­lies and the Food Em­pow­er­ment Project, asked the state agency to re­con­sider their pe­ti­tion to ex­empt fam­i­lies with schoolage chil­dren from re­lo­ca­tion.

The pe­ti­tion­ers say the move is their lat­est ef­fort to have the pol­icy changed af­ter four years of fruit­less ne­go­ti­a­tions with state agency of­fi­cials and at least one failed leg­isla­tive pro­posal. The frus­tra­tion cul­mi­nated in a for­mal pe­ti­tion in De­cem­ber and a protest that drew nearly 30 peo­ple at the depart­ment’s head­quar­ters in Sacramento.

But the agency re­jected the re­quest in June.

“It just feels like we have been stonewalled time and time again, and there’s no ev­i­dence that they have been willing to do any­thing,” said Lau­ren Or­nelas, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the Food Em­pow­er­ment Project. “While they are talk­ing about it, chil­dren aren’t grad­u­at­ing from high school.”

State agency of­fi­cials

counter that their search for a so­lu­tion hasn’t ended. Their lat­est meet­ing in late June brought to­gether about 50 mi­grant work­ers and rep­re­sen­ta­tives from com­mu­nity or­ga­ni­za­tions and hous­ing au­thor­i­ties.

Many ar­gued to keep the agency’s rule in place given the high de­mand and lim­ited sup­ply of mi­grant farm­worker hous­ing, said Evan Ger­berd­ing, a spokes­woman for the hous­ing depart­ment.

“There are two sides to this is­sue,” she said. “But the bottom line is that every­one wants the same out­come: for farm­work­ers to have an af­ford­able place to live, and for their chil­dren’s school year not to be dis­rupted.”

The state’s Of­fice of Mi­grant Hous­ing runs 24 cen­ters that house roughly 12,000 farm­work­ers each year. The hous­ing pro­gram was cre­ated in the 1970s for agri­cul­tural work­ers who make their liveli­hood fol­low­ing crops across the coun­try, ac­cord­ing to the state’s hous­ing and com­mu­nity de­vel­op­ment depart­ment. In California, that plant­ing and har­vest­ing sea­son runs from April through Oc­to­ber.

But to be el­i­gi­ble for the sub­si­dized lodg­ing, farm la­bor­ers must com­ply with the 50-mile rule, which farm­worker ad­vo­cates say was es­tab­lished when most work­ers tended to be men with­out fam­i­lies.

California is the only state na­tion­wide that des­ig­nates such a spe­cific dis­tance re­quire­ment, re­searchers say, and it forces about 3,500 chil­dren to with­draw from their schools each year.

The con­stant shuf­fling leads to poor aca­demic per­for­mance. Out of mi­grant stu­dents who in 2016 took stan­dard­ized tests given to third through eighth grades and 11th-graders across the state, 76% did not meet the stan­dard in lan­guage arts, and 83% did not meet the stan­dard in math, ac­cord­ing to one study in the pe­ti­tion. An­other found that in 20 years at the Buena Vista farm­worker center, not one stu­dent who had to change dis­tricts had re­ceived a high school di­ploma.

State of­fi­cials say any ac­tion that could be taken to change or elim­i­nate the 50mile rule would re­quire an amend­ment to the reg­u­la­tion. That in­volves an of­fi­cial pub­lic par­tic­i­pa­tion process and can take up to two years.

Mean­while, a leg­isla­tive pro­posal pend­ing in the state Se­nate seeks to spur the con­struc­tion of more farm­worker hous­ing through tax cred­its. It would al­low the state to op­er­ate the mi­grant farm la­bor cen­ters for up to 95 ad­di­tional days, but its costs are un­known.

Farm­worker ad­vo­cates ar­gue that the state agency has the au­thor­ity to change its reg­u­la­tions on its own.

“The one thing that gets par­ents out bed at 5 a.m. and into the fields by 7 a.m. to work a 10-hour day is the thought that by do­ing this, their kids will have a bet­ter fu­ture,” said Ann López, di­rec­tor of the Center for Farm­worker Fam­i­lies. “This 50-mile rule steals it from them.”

Michael Robin­son Chavez Los Angeles Times

WORK­ERS har­vest let­tuce out­side Sali­nas. California’s “50-mile rule” re­quires farm­work­ers to clear out of state-run mi­grant camps at the end of a grow­ing sea­son and move more than 50 miles away.

Michael Robin­son Chavez Los Angeles Times

THE STATE’S Of­fice of Mi­grant Hous­ing runs 24 cen­ters that house roughly 12,000 farm­work­ers each year. The pro­gram was cre­ated in the 1970s for work­ers who make their liv­ing fol­low­ing crops across the coun­try.

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