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U.S. ag officials looking at housing challenges for Idaho farmworkers

USDA officials based in Idaho say with increasing prices, it's important to make sure people have a safe place to call home while working in the Gem State.

NAMPA, Idaho — Agriculture is a key part of Idaho’s economy, and a large part of the agriculture workforce is seasonal and migrant labor.

“We are the second fastest-growing state in the nation. We are the third-largest ag producing state in the West. We have many food processing workers, meat packers, you name it," said Rudy Soto, the USDA Rural Development Idaho State Director.

During harvest, farmworkers take up temporary residences and travel from different states and countries to work in Idaho. Soto said they're essential to the state's economy, but also are among the lowest-paid workers.

"The challenges with the rising interest rates and costs that have been soaring. It's really been pricing people out and making it hard for folks to make ends meet,” Soto said.

On Monday, Soto and USDA Rural Development Housing Service Administrator Joaquin Altoro met with local stakeholders to discuss farmworker housing needs at the Hispanic Cultural Center of Idaho in Nampa. They heard from people who work directly in farmworker housing and others in a position to give advice on how to better meet the need.

"Not many people make the connection between the food that they have on their table and the actual people that do the hard work of getting that to their table," Altoro said. "In order for us to think about the resilience not only of the food on our tables but those who produce the food and bring it to our table, how are they housed, how are we thinking about their well-being.”

Another topic of discussion was the available resources for farmworkers living in Idaho.

“Equally important is to learn from our Idahoans, but at the same time I think it's important to let them know, 'We have resources. We have grants. We have funding.' It allows us to increase the resilience of these communities,” Altoro said.

Soto said the main goal is to make sure Idaho’s farmworkers have a safe and comfortable place for their families.

“People want a space to spend time with their families in a way that is comfortable, that gives them a sense of security," Soto said. "That will inspire them to pursue prosperity so they can lift us, their families and their communities, our state and our country.”

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