Vermont Legislature Considers Health Program for Migrant Farm Workers

A bill before the Vermont legislature would grant basic healthcare services to the states population of undocumented workers. The bill is not designed to include migrant laborers in the Catamount Health program that covers the un-insured, but instead to use state funds to reimburse doctors and clinics for providing basic preventative care. Vermont is not the only state proposing legislation relating to immigrants and immigration. As of November 2007, state legislators introduced 1562 such bills, up from 570 in 2006. Of the 147 bills introduced in 32 states, only 16 laws were enacted in 11 states. A series of laws passed in Illinois, for example, created a prescription drug program for undocumented workers whose immigration status makes them ineligible for need-based federal assistance and provided nearly $400,000 for community and migrant health centers to expand capacity and develop additional sites. Most of the estimated 2,500 migrant laborers in Vermont are from Mexico and work on dairy farms in Franklin and Addison counties, although many are also employed in the food service industry. The bill before the Vermont legislature was introduced by Addison County Senator Claire Ayer. The jobs that very often illegal migrant workers have are jobs that Vermonters dont want. It isnt that theyre displacing people, and that eventually well take back the jobs. People don't want them. So we need them to keep our dairy economy, our ski economy, and in some cases our food service economy going. We need them. Its a fact of life, and we need to take care of them, too, Ayer told VPRs John Dillon. The bill is still in the early stages of review, and Senator Ayer told VPRs John Dillon that the bill is likely to change as it moves through the legislative process. A group of UVM medical students started a mobile health clinic for farm workers in 2006. Luz Felix-Marquez, a medical student who helped form the group, told VPRs John Dillon that most people are reluctant to see a doctor in all but the most serious emergencies. Its not that they dont realize that that theyre sick. Its just that whatever theyre experiencing isnt impeding their work. And until it impedes their work, thats when theyre going to access care, she said. Senator Bernie Sanders recently held two days of meetings with the Coalition of Immokalee Workers, a group of farm workers in Florida who gained prominence taking on Burger King for a one penny per pound wage increase for tomato pickers. The meetings came just one day after a federal grand jury indicted six people for enslaving farm workers in that region. No worker in America should be treated the way tomato pickers in Florida are treated. The norm is a disaster, and slavery is the extreme, Sanders said.

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