Young people and the contributions they make as members of farm and ranch families are vital to American agriculture, according to Missouri hog farmer Chris Chinn. Testifying on behalf of the American Farm Bureau Federation, she told the House Small Business' Subcommittee on Agriculture, Energy and Trade that proposed Labor Department regulations on child labor would have negative impacts on rural America.
Chinn, who owns and operates a family farm with her husband, said the DOL rules could significantly limit the jobs their children (aged 14 and 10) could do on their own farm, and especially their grandparents' farm.
"A farmer's first-hand reaction to these proposed regulations is how negatively they will affect farm families," said Chinn, a member of the Missouri Farm Bureau's board of directors. "They strip away the ability of youth to work in agriculture, and the desire and goal of parents to pass on to our children the traditions and values we hold."
Responding to the DOL announcement earlier this week to re-propose the "parental exemption" of the rule, which prohibits youth from doing various farm activities on farms of which they don't reside, Chinn said that while the move was appreciated, "it is clear to all of us in the agricultural community that merely 'tweaking' the rule will not fix something that we believe is fundamentally flawed."
For example, Chinn explained that even traditional, routine farm chores, such as driving tractors, milking cows, cutting weeds and building or repairing fence would likely be considered illegal unless the farm on which the youth worked was wholly owned by his or her parents.
Further, said Chinn, who grew up doing many traditional farm chores on her grandparent's farm, "For DOL to suggest-as it does in its proposed regulations-that my grandparents were violating the law almost takes my breath away. But based on the proposal DOL intends to make final, it is saying that our family farm was violating federal law."
Chinn said it really comes down to DOL's lack of understanding regarding the societal structure of the farming community, how farms are organized and "how farm families help one another." She said there was clearly a lack of appreciation and grasp in the proposed regulations of "what it is like to live in rural America."