Flooding in California Hits Farmworkers Hard

In the past 4 months, California has seen wave after wave of rain, drenching the state and leading to many reservoirs being filled at or above their historical average capacity. But this great downpour has also led to massive flooding across the state, leading to train derailments, destruction of homes, and 22 deaths. 

Farmworkers working in California’s Central Valley, many of whom are undocumented, have been hit especially hard. In the Pajaro Valley, near Salinas, thousands of farmworkers have been driven from their homes by flooding. Many have been forced to find temporary shelters in nearby cities and seek relief at food banks.

Flooding has also prevented many farmworkers from working consistently for the past four months. Acres and acres of fields have been made unworkable because of the floods. The flooding has also ruined crops and produce such as strawberries. In some regions, there are estimated to be yield losses of up to 30% to 50%, just from the most recent flooding in March. This flooded farmland will have to undergo treatment and testing to make sure the ground wasn’t polluted. For farmworkers, this will mean many months more with lost income. Without fields to work in, farmworkers are facing income losses of thousands and thousands of dollars. But few are eligible for unemployment insurance because of their undocumented status. How do you recover when your house has been ruined and your source of income has dried up?

Not only will farmworkers lose income, but the prices of produce will rise even more, worsening inflation. Strawberries, lettuce, and other produce will see high prices throughout the year and will likely remain high, given the destruction of crops across the state, hitting our wallets even harder.

What has been the government response to all of this? While there have been multiple proposals to extend unemployment insurance to farmworkers, particularly those who are undocumented, across the state of California, Governor Newsom has vetoed these proposals, saying they were too expensive to operate. The bill in question would have cost $20 million – but California has given over $80 million a year in subsidies to big farm corporations since the 1990s. The question isn’t money, it’s whose priorities the government is willing to serve – and for Newsom and his allies, that priority is to serve the rich, not working-class immigrants.

As the climate crisis worsens, disasters like this will become increasingly common. Workers, the poor, immigrants and people of color will be hit the hardest by these disasters – and we’re already seeing the response of the government to this crisis: protect the wealth of the rich, and leave the poor to fend for themselves. After all, it would be supposedly “too expensive” to protect those of us who are most vulnerable. We should be horrified by this response of the politicians to the disaster – but we shouldn’t be surprised. As long as we live in a capitalist system that prioritizes the interests of the rich above those of the poor, this casual brutality to those suffering disaster will always be the norm.