BANGOR, Maine — A new program administered by Eastern Maine Development Corporation is helping local Maine blueberry growers rake it in along with seasonal and migrant workers.
The Raker Center, a temporary, annual program which has been set up at the town hall in Columbia, is the result of a partnership between EMDC and the National Farmworkers Jobs Program, or NFJP.
The center, open July 30 through August 15 this year, is working with blueberry farmers all over Down East Maine to connect them with migrant workers looking to work during the annual harvest.
EMDC officials will also help workers find solutions to any transportation challenges or housing concerns.
Chris Huh, an NFJP program manager who is at the Raker Center, said getting to and from job sites and finding suitable, affordable housing are the two biggest challenges for seasonal workers.
Huh describes the Raker Center as a “one-stop services center” for Washington County.
Assistance can range from emergency auto repair services and gas vouchers while housing aid could consist of emergency lodging, reduced rental rates or even tents.
“Helping the workers with these basic needs are important to stabilizing the employment of farmworkers,” Huh said.
Representatives are also on hand at the Raker Center to assist workers with the Maine Migrant Health program, the Maine Migrant Education program, Pine Tree Legal Assistance, the Maine Department of Labor’s Division of Migrant and Immigrant Services, the Maine Department of Health and Human Services’ Food Supplement Program, Syntiro’s High School Equivalency Proj ect, and Downeast Health Services’ WIC program.
The NFJP is a nationally directed job training program authorized by the Workforce Investment Act of 1988 that provides employment assistance for migrant and seasonal farmworkers. It provides funding to public agencies and community-based organizations assisting seasonal workers and their families. In addition to skills training, the program provides supportive services to help workers remain and stabilize their agricultural employment.
NFJP services are provided by public agencies and private nonprofit organizations through grants awarded by the Employment and Training Administration.
According to the U.S. Department of Labor website, more than 18,000 migrant workers received NFJP services in 2010. In 2011, the NFJP received a total of $84,451,000 in funding. Of that, $78,253,180 was allocated to the NFJP training program, $5,688,600 was given to the housing program, and $508,980 was allotted for training/technical assistance and discretionary uses.