By Jeremy Schwartz – American-Statesman Staff
In emotional testimony Tuesday, Texas farmworkers and advocates urged a House committee to pass a bill that would strengthen inspections of housing for agricultural workers, increase penalties on violators and require state regulators to look for unlicensed facilities.
Justino De Leon, a longtime farmworker from Pharr, told members of the House Committee on Urban Affairs that he often was forced to live in unlicensed facilities with appalling conditions. “We slept on the floor, on cardboard, with a broken air conditioning,” he said. “Some had to sleep in their trucks. There were lots of mosquitoes.”
Daniel Dwyer, head of the farmworker program at Texas RioGrande Legal Aid, Inc., showed the committee photos taken at an unlicensed housing facility in Premont last week with broken windows, large insects and no furnishings. Many such facilities are suspected to exist across the state, out of the reach of the Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs, which is tasked with inspecting farmworker housing facilities.
In 2015, the department spent less than $2,500 to conduct about 40 inspections of housing facilities provided by growers and labor contractors, most clustered in cotton-growing regions of the Panhandle. As a result, an estimated 9 in 10 Texas migrant farmworkers lack access to licensed housing that meets minimum health and safety standards required by state and federal law.
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