This story has been updated to correct a misspelled name.
When temperatures climbed above 90 degrees and wildfire smoke saturated the air this summer, some farmworkers faced a difficult choice: end the day early and lose wages, or keep working in dangerous conditions.
New heat and smoke rules from Oregon OSHA aimed to protect workers against extreme weather conditions this summer. But for many, the safest option was to call it quits early. For farmworkers making hourly wages, that meant losing critical income.
A new fund is available to help fill in the gaps. The first-ever Climate Change Fund was announced last weekfor agricultural workers who lost wages due to extreme heat or smoke the last two summers.
"Agricultural workers are more vulnerable than other workers to extreme heat and smoke conditions," said Andrea Gonzalez, program manager for Innovation Law Lab for Oregon Worker Relief. "They shouldn't have to choose between earning a paycheck or protecting their health."
The Oregon Legislature allocated $10 million to the Climate Change Fund as part of a larger emergency bill that distributes general funds to state agencies.
It is distributed by the Oregon Worker Relief Coalition, which includes more than 100 community partners and also distributes the Oregon Worker Relief Fund for undocumented workers.
Gonzalez said the coalition estimates roughly 7,000 workers will apply. Workers can receive compensation for up to two weeks of work or $1,250, so the funds could benefit as many as 8,000 workers.
In order to qualify, workers must demonstrate that the heat index at their worksite reached 90 degrees or higher, or the air quality index (AQI) was rated "unhealthy" (150 or higher). Workers with health conditions that put them at higher risk are eligible if the AQI at their worksite reached 100.
The funding is retroactive, so workers who have lost hours or wages since February 2021 are eligible to apply.
Last year's heat dome reached a deadly 117 degrees and killed nearly 100 Oregonians, including a nursery worker who collapsed at a nursery in St. Paul.
The Center for Disease Control found in 2008 that agricultural workers are 20 times more likely to die from heat-related illness.
"Agricultural workers are increasingly impacted by climate change through deadly heat waves, wildfires, and unhealthy air quality," PCUN policy and advocacy director Ira Cuello-Martinez said in a press release. “I believe the Climate Change Fund will help prevent tragedies by giving farmworkers a viable choice.”
The funds are available until June 2023, but Gonzalez said the coalition is "always trying to advocate" for relief funds for agricultural workers, especially as climate change "[fuels] heat waves that are longer, hotter, and more frequent."
To apply, call 1-888-274-7292. Trained staff will walk applicants through the process. There is no cost to apply.
Shannon Sollitt covers agricultural workers through Report for America, a program that aims to support local journalism and democracy by reporting on under-covered issues and communities. Send tips, questions and comments to firstname.lastname@example.org
This article originally appeared on Salem Statesman Journal: Relief available to Oregon farmworkers affected by extreme climate