OSWEGO COUNTY — A  state grant could bring farmer-provided housing to seasonal farm laborers working in Oswego County.

The state’s Community Development Block Grant (CDBG), via federal funds appropriated through the federal government’s Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES Act), could bring up to $1 million to Oswego County to improve housing conditions for farmer-provided housing. 

“(The grant funding) would improve housing conditions to avoid the spread of overcrowding and substandard living conditions that may lead to COVID-19 and other infectious diseases,” said County Director of Community Development Programs Donna Scanlon. “This includes the rehabilitation of existing housing. It supports farmers working with (foreign seasonal farm workers), helping them provide housing.”

A resolution was unanimously approved by the Oswego County Legislature in mid April to apply for the funds. County officials added there will be further discussion at upcoming Economic Development and Planning Committee meetings, detailing how county farmers can apply for grant funding. 

“This has the support of the Oswego Farm Bureau, Enwright Orchard, and Behlings Orchard,” said Legislator Marc Greco, R-Fulton. “Most of the farms have been notified of the program and it has the support of local farmers.”

In 2021, Oswego County farms brought in 20 seasonal migrant farm workers through the H-2A visa program. The U.S. Office of Foreign Labor Certification (OFLC) had a report that showed there were 12 workers at Dunsmoor Farms LLC, four workers at Ontario Orchards, three workers at Fruit Valley Orchard, two workers at Dellamano Orchards and Enwright Family Farm and Orchards had one worker.

In 2021, according to OFLC records, Dellamano Orchards provided housing to seven H-2A workers. The property is listed as “barracks-style housing,” and is compliant with local, state, and federal housing standards, according to the OFLC.

Farmer-provided housing for H-2A farm workers requires undergoing a permitting process through the State Department of Health (NYSDOH). As stipulated by the 2019 Farm Laborer Fair Labor Practices Act (FLFLPA), all employers providing migrant farmworker housing with an occupancy of one or more must obtain a permit from NYSDOH.

Prior to 2021, only housing that was offered to five or more individuals was required to obtain a migrant farm worker housing permit. 

Additionally, an approved housing inspection report must also be received by the Chicago National Processing Center at least 32 days prior to occupancy, a NYSDOH spokesperson said.

The H-2A program is wildly popular in New York. In 2018, the OFLC ranked the Empire State seventh among states who have H-2A-certified positions with 7,634.

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