Long-awaited protection for child ag workers offered by CARE Act – National Consumers League

Grecia Balli began working in farm fields when she was 10 years old. At age 14, she decided to drop out of school because her life as a migrant farmworker caused her to switch schools frequently, making it difficult for her to keep up academically. By age 17 she no longer dreamed of becoming a police officer, which had been her goal. Her life revolved around farm work.

Grecia is one of an estimated 400,000 to 500,000 children who work in U.S. agriculture. Interviewed for “Fingers to the Bone,” a film by U. Roberto Romano and Human Rights Watch, Grecia said she felt as though she had no choices as a farmworker. “You don’t feel the same as other kids.”

Child farmworkers aren’t treated the same as other children, either, under current U.S. labor laws. Seventy-five years after its passage, the antiquated Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) of 1938 continues to regulate child labor, but fails to provide children performing agricultural work with protections equal to those afforded other children. The FLSA restricts children younger than 16 years from working for more than three hours on a school day, but a loophole for the agricultural sector means children as young as 12 can legally work unlimited hours on farms before or after school, and children of any age can work on small farms, with their parents’ permission. Children 14 and older can work on any farm, without parental consent. Child agricultural workers are also permitted to perform hazardous work at age 16, while hazardous work is strictly reserved for adults in all other sectors.

Agriculture is one of the most dangerous industries and the most dangerous for children, according to U.S. Department of Labor statistics. “Children working for wages on farms are exposed to many hazards—farm machinery, heat stroke, and pesticides among them—and they perform back-breaking labor that no child should have to experience,” says Child Labor Coalition (CLC) Co-Chair Sally Greenberg, the executive director of the National Consumers League, a consumer advocacy organization that has worked to eliminate abusive child labor since its founding in 1899. “Child farmworkers deserve the same protections that all other American kids enjoy.”

As Grecia’s story illustrates, schooling is also negatively impacted when children labor in agriculture. Many of them leave school before the term ends and return after it has begun. This can lead to academic difficulties. American Federation of Teachers Secretary-Treasurer and CLC Co-Chair Lorretta Johnson notes, “Fifty percent of children who regularly work on farms will not graduate from high school.” Child farmworkers have four times the national rate of school drop-out.

For more than a decade, the CLC has endeavored to address the issue of child agricultural labor and is working to help pass the Children’s Act for Responsible Employment (CARE), HR 2234, federal legislation re-introduced on June 12, 2013, by Representative Lucille Roybal-Allard (D-CA) to amend the FLSA.

The CARE Act would close loopholes that permit children under age 14 to work in the agricultural industry (unless working on a family farm or for their parents). The new legislation would require the U.S. Secretary of Labor to determine the specific types of farm work that are safe enough for 14- and 15-year-olds and it would restrict those under age 18 from performing hazardous farm work. Regulations protecting children from pesticide exposure would also be strengthened.

Grecia Balli says it’s difficult to know that she has not been able to take advantage of the opportunities and freedoms that her parents came to the United States to provide for their children, but hopes she will be able to “later on.” Although Grecia only has a grade 8 education she says, “I still have esperanza [hope].”

By offering children who work in agriculture the same protections as other child laborers, the CARE Act would ensure that the kinds of opportunities and freedoms other children enjoy aren’t something that child farmworkers can only hope for.

The CARE Act has been regularly introduced in Congress since 2001. It has had as many as 107 co-sponsors and more than 150 national and state groups have endorsed the legislation, but so far Congress has refused to vote on the bill. We urge readers to write their members of Congress at www.house.gov and www.senate.gov and urge them to enact the CARE Act, HR 2234.


Statement by Sally Greenberg, Executive Director, National Consumers on the Senate’s Confirmation of Howard Shelanski as Head of OIRA – National Consumers League

June 28, 2013

Contact: Ben Klein, NCL Communications, (202) 835-3323benk@nclnet.org

Washington, DC-Sally Greenberg, Executive Director of the National Consumers League, issued the following statement on the US Senate’s confirmation of Howard Shelanksi as Administrator of the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA) at the Office of Management and Budget.

“OIRA has proven to be of critical importance to the health and welfare of consumers and workers.The Agency is tasked with reviewing rules proposed by federal Agencies and far too often, OIRA has locked up these important rules that protect both workers and consumers. To date, of the 139 rules under review at OIRA, 71 are well beyond the 90-day review limit imposed by Executive Order 12866. We are hopeful that the new Administrator, Howard Shelanski, will act in his new post to clear up this backlog and follow the law of underlying statutes under which regulations are reviewed.

“NCL calls upon Administrator Shelanski to bring life to what has become a calcified regulatory system. We are asking that he untangle and release the backlog of overdue regulations stuck at OIRA in violation of the required deadline for finishing reviews, and will work with other Administration officials to identify ways to help implement, among other acts, the silica rules, the backover regulations, rules on arsenic in juice and many other consumer and worker protection regulations. We stand ready to assist OIRA and Administrator Shelanski in the challenging tasks he has before him as the new Administrator of OIRA.” 


About the National Consumers League
The National Consumers League, founded in 1899, is America’s pioneer consumer organization. Our mission is to protect and promote social and economic justice for consumers and workers in the United States and abroad. For more information, visit www.nclnet.org.

The NSA scandal: balancing safety and liberty – National Consumers League

By Sally Greenberg, NCL Executive Director
On June 6, Edward Snowden leaked classified information about the National Security Agency’s (NSA) collection of massive amounts of data over the last decade. First came the revelation that the secretive agency demanded that telecom providers hand over droves of phone conversation metadata, including the telephone numbers of those making and receiving calls and how long those calls lasted. Later we learned that the NSA also requested online data collected from Google, Facebook, Yahoo, and others. Some have called Snowden a hero, others a traitor.

The U.S. government has charged Snowden with espionage. Snowden, a 29-year-old high school drop-out (he later earned his GED), had been hired by an outsourced government contractor and working with sensitive NSA data since 2009. His release of the classified information has not only raised serious questions about the legality of such data collection and what this means for people living in a free, democratic society such as ours, but also has muddled international relations with China and Russia, both countries in which he has appeared since fleeing. Neither Russia nor Hong Kong were willing  to extradite  him  to the US. Much of the media’s focus over the last few weeks has revolved around Snowden’s whereabouts, but these revelations about NSA’s actions have also started a more sobering discussion about what role the government plays in both protecting the American people from terrorist attacks and preserving civil liberties. Polls taken since the disclosure of NSA’s policies show Americans are divided on this issue.

PEW poll reported that 56 percent of Americans think the NSA’s tracking of “millions of Americans” phone records is an acceptable way for the government to investigate terrorism. Conversely, in a CBS poll that asked about collecting phone records of “ordinary Americans” only 38 percent of respondents found the practice acceptable. Due to the lack of transparency in the NSA program, Americans are unclear how useful such data collection is to ensuring our safety and security. Both the Obama Administration and Gen. Keith B. Alexander, head of the NSA, claim the programs have thwarted dozens, perhaps as many as 50, terror plots. This number might prove more persuasive if the agency would reveal more details about these terrorist activities, but they’ve instead played the “trust us, we’re here to protect you” card and are reluctant to disclose information about the actual plots or the tools used to stop those plots. That leaves many Americans skeptical about the validity of such statements. Could these terrorist attacks have been stopped by other means? Were these terrorist attacks stopped by other means?

One strategy that both protects security but seeks to preserve our privacy and freedom of association is being pursued by a handful of US Senators. Patrick Leahy (D-VT), chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, has introduced the FISA Accountability and Privacy Protection Act of 2013. This bipartisan bill aims to bolster existing privacy safeguards and require greater oversight, transparency, and accountability in connection with the government’s expansive domestic surveillance powers. Government plays an important role in all of our lives in acting for the common good; state and local governments were established to do the things communities benefit from: ensure fire and police protection, build and maintain schools, hospitals, water treatment plants and sewer systems. But when our federal government collects billions of pieces of information from the phone records and Internet data of all its citizens with a vague explanation that this is needed for “national security,” that’s a fishing expedition and should raise serious concerns about privacy.

Perhaps most of us don’t feel like we’re living in a police state, but when you stop to think about the ways in which our privacy has been invaded, it’s scary. Many cities, including where I live in Washington DC, have literally hundreds of cameras deployed all across town operating 24/7. GPS tracking devices are ubiquitous. DUI checkpoints are common and the cops can take your blood if they suspect you’ve been drinking, and now, according to the Supreme Court, if you get stopped for a minor infraction your DNA can be loaded into a database. As one USA Today commentator put it, “There must be a balance between legitimate security and overbearing government.” We have indeed seen a steady erosion of privacy since 9/11.

The passage of the Patriot Act was a reaction to the attack on the United States and was just the opening salvo. And what has that gotten us? More protection from terrorists? I’m skeptical. Why did the FBI miss the Boston Marathon bombers when the Russian government warned them about the older Tsarnaev brother, saying he was dangerous? The CIA missed Fort Hood shooter Nidal Hasan’s relationship with terrorist groups. Not to mention that there were many red flags that our intelligence agencies missed before the 9/11 attack, such as young Saudi men living isolated lives but getting flight training, traveling from the United States to Osama Bin Laden’s training camps. In America, there exists a generation of young people who are inured to this loss of liberty, loss of privacy and the difficulty getting these protections back once they’ve been lost. As Benjamin Franklin said “Any people that would give up liberty for a little temporary safety deserves neither liberty nor safety.” Ronald Reagan, 200 years later, echoed the same: “Concentrated power has always been the enemy of liberty.”

National Consumers League applauds Senate for immigration reform vote – National Consumers League

June 27, 2013

Contact: Ben Klein, NCL Communications, (202) 835-3323, benk@nclnet.org

Washington, DC–Today the nation’s pioneering consumer and worker advocacy organization praised the Senate for its vote on landmark immigration reform legislation (S.744). The following statement can be attributed to National Consumers League Executive Director Sally Greenberg:

“Today the Senate took a crucial first step towards ensuring the security of our borders and offering a path to citizenship for 11 million undocumented immigrants. The Board of Directors of the National Consumers League supports a principled, comprehensive immigration reform that treats all immigrants with respect and dignity, no matter their legal status in the United States.

“Earlier this year, NCL passed for the first time in its 114-year history a Board policy calling for comprehensive immigration reform that reflects both the League’s history and legacy–reform that supports workers and consumers, our interest and values as Americans, and is consistent with our nation’s commitment to fairness and equality.”


About the National Consumers League
The National Consumers League, founded in 1899, is America’s pioneer consumer organization. Our mission is to protect and promote social and economic justice for consumers and workers in the United States and abroad. For more information, visit www.nclnet.org.

NCL statement on House hearing on Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 – National Consumers League

June 26, 2013

Contact: Ben Klein, NCL Communications, (202) 835-3323, benk@nclnet.org

Washington, DC—In advance of the House of Representatives upcoming hearing on Thursday June 27, titled “School Meal Regulations: Discussing the Costs and Consequences for Schools and Students,” the National Consumers League (NCL) has issued the following statement reaffirming its support for The Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 (HHFKA).  The following can be attributed to Sally Greenberg, NCL Executive Director.

“‘The Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act’ mandates nutritious meals for our school children and provides increased funding to schools to make those meals possible. The act also fits nicely with first lady Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move! initiative, which is working to end childhood obesity in America. Though the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) is merely fulfilling its congressional mandate, many have called these regulations misguided, pointing to instances in which high school students protest the introduction of healthier meals. Focusing on a few incidents obscures the Act’s importance to the overall health and welfare of our children. These science-based nutritional guidelines, which increase the amounts of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains in school meals, work to improve the well-being of our school-aged kids, helping promote healthier physical development and higher academic performance. For all these reasons, NCL reaffirms its support for The Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act and will continue to work to support USDA in its moves towards full implementation.” 


About the National Consumers League

The National Consumers League, founded in 1899, is America’s pioneer consumer organization. Our mission is to protect and promote social and economic justice for consumers and workers in the United States and abroad. For more information, visit www.nclnet.org.

The Fair Labor Standards Act turns 75 – National Consumers League

Since FDR signed the Fair Labor Standards Act in 1938 great strides have been made in protecting worker’s rights. At that time, the act covered only about one fifth of the labor force. The FLSA banned oppressive child labor, set a minimum hourly wage of 25 cents, and defined a maximum work week of 44 hours. Economists believe that raising the minimum wage could help pull millions Americans out of poverty and could potentially generate over $60 billion in consumer spending. The federal minimum wage has not been increased since 2009, and the tipped minimum wage has not been raised since 1991. The Fair Minimum Wage Act of 2013 proposes to raise the minimum wage to $10.10 an hour. One study found that this increase would push more than half of the working poor out of poverty.

Consumer group expresses great disappointment in DOT’s announcement of a fourth delay in implementing auto backover safety – National Consumers League

June 21, 2013

Contact: Ben Klein, NCL Communications, (202) 835-3323, benk@nclnet.org

Washington, DC—The National Consumers League, America’s pioneering consumer advocacy organization, today expressed great disappointment that the Department of Transportation (DOT) has delayed yet again a Congressional order to improve standards in automotive rear visibility; this is the fourth time in two years such a delay has been announced. The Cameron Gulbransen Kids Transportation Safety Act, signed into law in 2008, included a rear visibility rule mandating auto improvements that would allow drivers to more easily see small children directly behind their vehicle. The rule was originally set to take effect on February 28, 2011, but the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, a lobbying group for the auto industry, has successfully worked to delay implementation.

“I am extremely dismayed the Department of Transportation has yet again failed to institute a rule that would save hundreds of young children’s lives and prevent innumerable devastating injuries,” said Sally Greenberg, NCL Executive Director. “The Auto Alliance cannot dispute the fact that four children die every week after being backed over because a driver could not see a small child in their blind spot. For more than two years, while this rule has been delayed time and again, hundreds of innocent children have been the victims.”

According to a KidsandCars.org report, 50 children are backed over by vehicles every week. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimates nearly 300 deaths a year and more than 18,000 injuries annually are a result of back-over crashes. NCL strongly urges the DOT to act to implement this rule and stop delaying this common sense, life-saving safety measure. 


About the National Consumers League

The National Consumers League, founded in 1899, is America’s pioneer consumer organization. Our mission is to protect and promote social and economic justice for consumers and workers in the United States and abroad. For more information, visit www.nclnet.org.

Debunking myths about food stamps – National Consumers League

The Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP), formerly known as food stamps, is a federal aid program administered by the USDA that is up for renewal in the massive Farm Bill. Despite serving nearly one in seven Americans, SNAP is widely misunderstood, with countless myths mischaracterizing the program. We’ll help separate fact from fiction.

SNAP provides low-income individuals, senior citizens, and the disabled with financial assistance to purchase food. Due to its nature, SNAP acts not only to reduce hunger and improve nutrition, but also to alleviate poverty across the United States. In 2012, SNAP provided nearly $81 billion in food assistance to 46.7 million Americans.

Over the past month, Congress has been working to re-authorize the farm bill, which funds and sets the country’s food and agricultural policy every five years. Both the Senate and House had planned to make significant cuts to SNAP, which accounts for approximately 76 percent of the farm bill’s budget. The Senate proposed and passed a bill, which would make cuts of $4.1 billion in SNAP funding over the next ten years, meaning an estimated 500,000 families will lose $90 per month in benefits. The House failed to pass a bill that would make even more aggressive cuts, reducing SNAP funding by $20 billion over the next ten years, cuts that would impact almost 2 million people. But that is not the only debate surrounding the farm bill. Despite serving nearly one in seven Americans, SNAP is widely misunderstood with countless myths mischaracterizing the program.

Myth 1: SNAP recipients are “welfare queens.”

Reality 1: SNAP primarily provides assistance to the working poor. According to research by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, four out of five SNAP beneficiaries are either working—many of which are in the military— or individuals who cannot be expected to work, such as children, the elderly or the disabled.

Myth 2: SNAP is rife with fraud and abuse.

Reality 2: SNAP is a well-run and efficient federal program.

Since the introduction of the Electric Benefit Transfer card (EBT), which is essentially a debit card to purchase food, fraud within the program has reached unprecedented lows. According to the Government Accountability Office (GAO), “trafficking,” which involves selling SNAP benefits for cash, has gone from 3.8 cents per dollar to one cent per dollar over the last twenty years. Furthermore, SNAP is an efficient federal program. Approximately 92 percent of federal SNAP funding goes towards the beneficiaries. Only eight percent is spent on administrative costs, such as salaries, training and nutrition education.

Myth 3: SNAP is an economic drain.

Reality 3: SNAP helps to drive the local economy.

According to USDA, every dollar spent on SNAP spurs $1.79 in economic activity. Instead of stunting the U.S. economy, SNAP helps keep up demand for farm products and food, thereby boosting growth and jobs.

Myth 4: SNAP spending is out-of-control.

Reality 4: SNAP has only responded to increased need given the current economic state.

Since the number of SNAP beneficiaries is at a historic high, critics have called President Obama the “Food Stamp President.” In reality, these high enrollment numbers merely reflect the counter-cyclical nature of the SNAP program. The program acts as a safety-net, allowing anyone who is eligible to enroll. Because of the economic recession, more Americans are eligible for SNAP and, as a result, have become SNAP beneficiaries. When the economy recovers, the number of the SNAP beneficiaries should drop, and there is already some evidence suggesting that is the case.

Myth 5: SNAP recipients use federal money to enjoy lavish restaurant meals of caviar and champagne.

Reality 5: SNAP funding is primarily used to buy food—ranging from produce to pre-packaged items— at authorized retail stores.

A handful of states operate a SNAP Restaurant Meal Program, which allows the elderly, homeless, and disabled to purchase ready-to-eat food at restaurants. And yes, SNAP benefits also allow mothers to buy baby formula, but SNAP does not cover other household items—such as soaps, paper products, pet foods, alcohol, or cigarettes.

In dispelling the many myths surrounding SNAP, Americans must realize the countless benefits provided by the program, and urge your Members of Congress to protect SNAP funding. SNAP has assisted struggling Americans since 1961 to providing vulnerable Americans with the most basic of need—food. As concerned and compassionate Americans, we have to make sure these safety-net programs are protected.

Debate about the farm bill rages on in Congress – National Consumers League

By Teresa Green, Linda Golodner Food Safety & Nutrition Fellow For anyone interested in food and agricultural policy, the last month has been an exciting and tense one.  As both the House and the Senate took up long delayed farm bills, many advocates were hopeful that the final bill, which provides a foundation for important farm and nutrition programs, would finally pass after a year’s worth of delays.

Surprisingly, and to the shock of many who have followed its progress closely, the farm bill was voted down in the House.  The bill was defeated, ironically enough, by a group of bipartisan Congressmen. Democrats voted against the bill because of its draconian cuts to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly food stamps), and some Republicans voted against the bill because they felt the bill did not do enough to curtail spending.  This historic defeat of the farm bill has imparted some important lessons legislators and advocates would do well to heed before once again trying to pass the bill.

  1.  While it’s called the farm bill, SNAP is key.  Despite its name, somewhere around 76% of farm bill spending goes to nutrition programs.  It is this coupling that has for many years enabled the passage of expensive farm programs and continued funding of safety net programs which are unpopular with many Republicans.  As we’ve written before, there are many myths floating around about SNAP, and they serve to fuel strong and often heated debate.  Several amendments dealing with SNAP were offered during the floor debate on the bill, including mandatory drug testing and work requirements.  These amendments are largely credited with losing the necessary Democratic votes.
  2. Bipartisanship is integral to passing the farm bill.  Given that some Republicans feel that the farm bill should face even more drastic cuts than those proposed, the Republican leadership was counting on a handful of Democratic votes to help push the vote through.  Without these votes, it may prove impossible to get a farm bill passed.  This emphasizes the importance of reaching across the aisle when trying to get through “must pass” legislation, lessons we can only hope the leadership will take in mind while working on immigration reform and next year’s budget.
  3. Kicking the can down the road doesn’t always work.  When the farm bill came was about to expire last year in the midst of an election, House leadership refused to bring the bill to the floor.  Instead, they extended the old bill for one year, seemingly confident that the legislation could be passed after the election.  Last week’s vote proves that this was not the case.  The leadership will now have to come up with a new and innovative strategy to get the farm bill passed, a tricky prospect given the strong opinions on both sides of the issue.

While the vote surprised House leadership as well as those working on the farm bill, in the current climate, it was not entirely unforeseeable.  If recent action in Congress has taught us anything, it is that we can hardly predict what action that body will take.  For advocates, this should be an encouragement to pursue issues that may seem unlikely to pass.  And this unexpected vote gives us another chance to make sure important safety net programs like SNAP are fully funded, an opportunity we should not let go to waste.

National consumer group calls on NYC City Council to level playing field in notoriously unfair event ticket industry – National Consumers League

June 20, 2013

Contact: Ben Klein, NCL Communications, (202) 835-3323, benk@nclnet.org

New York, NY—The below statement was issued by Sally Greenberg, Executive Director of the National Consumers League (NCL), following the New York City Council’s hearing June 19, 2013 on ticketing.

“The National Consumers League thanks Chairman Daniel Garodnick and the Consumer Affairs Committee of the Council for recognizing the unfair marketplace consumers face when trying to buy live event tickets and for considering legislation to make this notoriously opaque industry more transparent. Too often, fans are shut out of seeing their favorite artists because tickets “sell out” in seconds. In truth, many fans never had a chance to get those tickets. What they don’t know is that the vast majority are too often pre-sold to fan clubs and special credit card customers or given away to industry insiders who then re-sell them for greatly inflated prices.

“We are also grateful that Kim Knox, Tony Fangel and Elissa Verill took time out to testify on their everyday experience, because they are real consumers that are being duped when tickets to popular concerts are not available.  This is nothing short of economic fraud and we need to make this marketplace far more open and fair to consumers.”

“We want transparency so that consumers are aware that for the most part, the cards are stacked against the them and can act accordingly. Hopefully this will force ticketing giants, concert promoters, artist management and industry executives to play fair so that the fan doesn’t end up time and again with short end of the stick,” said Kim Knox, an independent event producer.

Tony Fangel, a New York City resident, gave riveting testimony about his tragicomedy like experience trying to buy tickets to his favorite group, The Killers.  “It is absurd what happens in the New York City ticket market. I have gone to over 150 concerts in my life, most of them in New York. I was unable to get Killers tickets for four years because of the tickets being immediately sold out after trying to buy during the presale and the general sale right as they went on sale. Then they would end up on a website for twice the price. Something needs to be done,” said Tony Fangel.

Another witness before the Committee told a similar story. “My friends and I tried over and over to get tickets to the Governors Ball on Governors Island, we tried the first presale and right when the tickets went on sale, the screen froze for a few minutes only to come back and say they were sold out. We tried the second presale and the same thing happened. Finally, months later when regular sale came, the tickets were $300. If there was some transparency we could have made different plans and at least had a chance to go to the concert,” said Elissa Verilli. 


About the National Consumers League

The National Consumers League, founded in 1899, is America’s pioneer consumer organization. Our mission is to protect and promote social and economic justice for consumers and workers in the United States and abroad. For more information, visit www.nclnet.org.