Representatives of the Governments of Mexico and California, together with The California Endowment, the state's largest health foundation, met in the State Capitol to announce strategies for addressing the critical health care needs of
California's agricultural worker population, saying no group of workers in America faces greater barriers to the basic human right of access to health care services.
"Migrant farm workers are an ignored and forgotten population, one whose health and well being is critical to all," said Robert K. Ross, M.D., president and CEO of The California Endowment. "The fruits of their labor contribute to our personal health and the health of our economy, yet their own health status suffers in ways that most Americans would regard as unacceptable."
To address these issues, The Endowment announced that more than $16 million in grants will be made to several organizations to provide better health education, more health coverage and better access to health care services for agricultural workers and their families. These initiatives are the first phase of the foundation's five-year, $50 million agricultural worker health program announced by Governor Gray Davis and Mexico's President Vicente Fox in March.
The framework for the $16 million funding program was a report and a series of recommendations developed by a 23-member Task Force on Agricultural Worker Health, created by The Endowment earlier this year.
Chaired by retired U.S. Congressman Esteban Torres, the CEO Task Force met over a three-month period to assist The Endowment in developing grant-making strategies to address the most critical health care needs of agricultural workers while building a bridge toward long-term solutions.
"California's agricultural worker population numbers more than one million and contributes to California's $30 billion agricultural economy, and the plight of this vital population cannot be ignored any longer," Torres said. "It's been more than 25 years since meaningful public policy benefiting this population was enacted. What began with Cesar Chavez, Dolorez Huerta and the farm worker movement over 30 years ago needs to be put back on the state agenda. It is my firm belief that the recommendations provided by this task force will help make lasting improvements in the lives of these workers and their families."
Torres cited findings from the recent Suffering In Silence report, commissioned by The Endowment, which revealed the deplorable health, living and working conditions of California's agricultural worker population. Among the key findings, fewer than one-third of these workers has any form of medical insurance, and only one in seven is in a government-sponsored program that serves low-income people. The report concludes that the risks for chronic disease, such as heart disease, stroke, asthma and diabetes, are startlingly high for a group comprising mostly young men who would normally be in peak physical condition.
"The Governments of Mexico, the United States and California are all focusing unprecedented attention on this issue and never has the need for improving the health and living conditions of migrant farm workers been more clear, nor a solution more possible," said Juan Hernandez, Senior Advisor to the President on Mexicans Abroad. "The Endowment and the Task Force have seized upon this opportunity to take the most important step forward, the one that takes us from recognizing that a problem exists to developing and implementing a solution."
The Endowment's Task Force issued a report, The Bounty of Food: The Poverty of Health, in which it provides goals and recommendations for meeting the short and long-term needs of agricultural workers. The Endowment's Phase I funding initiative is designed to address several program needs and goals that the task force identified. These include:
-- Agricultural Worker Health Community Action Grants Program. Under this program, grants ranging from $100,000 to $250,000 ($500,000 in the case of collaborative or multi-site proposals) will be awarded for one- to two-year periods. Nearly $10 million has been earmarked for this program, which will expand clinical services for farm workers.
-- Policy and Advocacy Champions Mobilization and Support Program. A total of $3 million will be awarded to statewide organizations expressly dedicated to advocating for the health and human rights of agricultural workers. The strategy of this program is to ensure the continued efforts of these organizations to advocate for long-term public policy solutions to the health and health care issues affecting this population.
-- California-Mexico Health Initiative. The Endowment has awarded a one-year grant of $500,000 to the California Policy Research Center, affiliated with the University of California, to support this program. This initiative is a collaborative, bi-national approach among federal and state policymakers, philanthropic and community organizations, as well as academia to address the health needs of Mexican migrants in California. The grant will help provide the necessary resources to oversee, implement and coordinate this unprecedented cooperative effort, which will include the first annual "Bi-national Migrant Health Week" in California and Mexico from October 15-19, 2001.
-- Health Awareness and Communication Support. An essential element for effectively reaching this population will be the development of a comprehensive communications strategy. A one-year grant of $505,500 will go to Radio Bilingue to produce an agricultural worker health awareness campaign and bring the agricultural worker community into dialogue with health service providers.
-- Data and Information Research. The Endowment will award an additional $600,000 to the California Institute for Rural Studies to better understand, assess, and evaluate the ongoing health needs of this population.
Additional grants will be made to support other short-term opportunities that match the parameters identified in the CEO Task Force Report. As one example, a grant of $904,089 over three years will be awarded to Organizacion en California de Lideres Campesinas, Inc., a statewide organization of Latina farm workers.
"Programs like these provide a tremendous opportunity to improve the lives of those who have the least access to adequate health care," said Senator Deborah Ortiz, chair of the Senate Health Committee. "The California-Mexico Health Initiative in particular can be a major step in developing a working relationship between California and Mexico on this serious issue, to the great benefit of both of us."
The California Endowment was established in 1996 to expand access to affordable, quality health care for underserved individuals and communities, and to promote fundamental improvements in the health status of all Californians. The Endowment has regional offices in Los Angeles, San Francisco, Sacramento, Fresno and San Diego with program staff working throughout the state. The Endowment makes grants to organizations and institutions that directly benefit the health and well-being of the people of California.