New Mexico plans to use up to $ 5 million in federal coronavirus relief funds to raise the wages of chili pepper pickers and processors to $ 19.50 an hour, according to reports.
The move will help ensure a successful harvest of the state’s most iconic crop, Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham said Thursday, The Associated Press reported.
“It is a very important symbol of New Mexico agriculture and commerce,” Grisham said in a statement. “I will do everything in my power to support the industry in their efforts to harvest and transform a successful 2021 crop.”
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The move comes as New Mexico grapples with an increase in new coronavirus cases, bracing for 1,000 new cases a day by the end of August, the Santa Fe New Mexican reported this week.
Criticism of the GOP
It also comes after Grisham was criticized by some Republicans in New Mexico, who claimed that the state’s farm labor shortage could be blamed at least in part on people preferring to stay home and collect improved unemployment benefits rather than returning to the fields of Chile.
“The people of southern New Mexico are witnessing how the Chilean industry is becoming a victim of our flawed supplemental unemployment insurance program,” three state Republicans wrote in Grisham earlier. this month, according to the Santa Fe New Mexican newspaper.
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“Although Chilean farmers in our state may bear the first burden of this labor shortage, it is not long before other agricultural industries are feeling the effects of this policy.”
The letter to Grisham was signed by State Senator Crystal Diamond of Elephant Butte and State Representatives Rebecca Dow of Truth or Consequences and Luis Terrazas of Silver City, the newspaper reported.
“It’s going well” at home
A Chilean farmer, Joe Paul Lack, told the newspaper he feared a decrease in his harvest of his peppers, onions and pecans this year because he couldn’t find enough workers, the New Mexican reported.
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He claimed some of his former employees told him they were happy with the extra $ 300 a week they were getting in unemployment benefits – although the extra money was supposed to end in September.
“I don’t think they have an incentive to work,” Lack told the newspaper. “They do well sitting at home and don’t have to work.”
A spokeswoman for Grisham earlier this month denied that improved unemployment benefits were solely responsible for problems re-entering the workforce in New Mexico, the New Mexican reported.
The Associated Press contributed to this story.
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