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Illegal Migrant Workers and Cannabis Farmers Seeking Aid from California Following Winter Storms

Gov. Gavin Newsom speaking at a farm in Dunnigan last weekend.Credit...Paul Kitagaki Jr./The Sacramento Bee, via Associated Press
Gov. Gavin Newsom speaking at a farm in Dunnigan last weekend.Credit…Paul Kitagaki Jr./The Sacramento Bee, via Associated Press

Following weeks of heavy rainfall in California, Governor Gavin Newsom said that one of the nation's largest nonprofit organizations, United Way, would be giving $600 checks to farmworkers and cannabis farmers affected by the floods, regardless of whether they have legal status. The Governor did not commit state funding to illegal migrant workers or cannabis businesses, which do not qualify for federal government emergency aid.

According to reports, families and individuals with cannabis businesses witnessed their greenhouses flooded, with some even closing them down before the rainfall began. Small rivers have spread in places like Monterey County in the past few years, with winter storms hitting California's central coast and affecting the population.

Reports indicate that around 8,500 people were under flood evacuation warnings in Monterey County last weekend, with the California Governor's Office of Emergency Services reporting that around 300 people stayed in several shelters in Santa Cruz and Monterey counties, with a vast number living at the Santa Cruz County Fairgrounds.

After the latest rounds of wind and rain resulting in flooding from the Pajaro River Levee, hundreds of illegal migrants have been displaced, leaving many to relocate to different parts of the state. Many wonder how state and local officials would respond to their calls for direct funding following the disaster in what is known as America's salad bowl.

Different cannabis compliance consultants said that many were directly affected by the flooding, with many having to evacuate their plants and close down due to muddy soil. With cannabis remaining illegal nationally, local growers have been excluded from federal financial aid following the storm and the collapse in cannabis prices.

At least 56 cannabis businesses had to close in Monterey County in 2022, with more closing down following the rainfall these past few weeks.

Under the current state law, cannabis businesses affected by disasters can apply for temporary exemptions from licensing requirements if they do not meet regulatory rules. "All applications are reviewed on a case-by-case basis and are aimed at providing regulatory relief to licensees for impacts related to issues including flooding," said David Hafner, a spokesman for the California Department of Cannabis Control.

According to Monterey County Supervisor Luis Alejo, around 20,000 acres of farmland in areas like Monterey County are likely to go unplanted due to the storm's aftermath. Alejo urged state leaders to "provide state budget assistance for undocumented flood victims who do not qualify for FEMA assistance and additional help for farmworkers who will be out of work due to flooded agricultural fields and who do not qualify for unemployment insurance."

During the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, California offered support to hundreds of illegal workers, including cannabis growers whose crops were destroyed by wildfires. With rising costs continuing to occur in the state, officials predict the state will witness a projected $24 billion state budget deficit in 2024.

Touring the flooded regions in towns like Pajaro, Governor Newsom said that United Ways has $42 million available for emergency payment to legal and illegal farmworkers, saying the nonprofit will send $600 requested checks.

"Those dollars are going to start coming out today," Newsom said. The Governor also explained that illegal workers are not eligible for federal aid because they are in California and have no federal authorization. He then indicated his appreciation for nonprofits for engaging in such efforts.

"There are a lot of people here who are not immediately eligible for assistance, people here that we are very aware of," he told reporters. "There is no state in the United States that does more for farmworkers than the state of California. And we don't do enough."

The Governor said that state and local officials are working to assess the damage in the towns affected by the flooding and are updating the state of emergency designations, allowing the state to send more for the recovery effort. In the state legislature, Democrat representatives like Miguel Santiago from District 54 in Los Angeles and Robert Rivas from District 29 in Salinas said they sought to provide more benefits to illegal migrant workers who do not qualify under federal aid programs.

Should California officials pass legislation to increase benefits for illegal migrant workers, many expect taxes on ordinary California and businesses to increase, which could exacerbate the ongoing California exodus.

Related Story: Newsom Asks DOJ to Explore Kidnapping Charges Against GOP Governors for Busing Migrants

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