Entidad’s Role in the USDA’s Farm and Food Workers Relief Program (FFWR)

Written by:

Elizabeth Melton

3 minutes

While it may feel to some like we are out of the COVID woods, the financial impact of the pandemic is being felt everywhere – especially among farmworkers.

Even though they were one of the most critical components of our workforce, farmworkers were severely discounted during COVID. Many weren’t offered time off to take a test or get their vaccinations. And because there wasn’t any financial relief, they had to work even when they were sick.

The current administration began feeling the downstream effects of this lack of assistance last year. Recently, they’ve worked with the USDA to create the Farm and Food Workers Relief Program (FFWR), which is granting over $650 million in payments.

The United Farm Workers Foundation (UFWF) won one of the largest grants and chose Entidad to help them develop technology that would streamline the distribution process. So in this piece, we’ll explain more about what FFWR is, the relationship between Entidad and UFWF, and the desktop and native apps that will make nearly 100 million dollars worth of relief payments possible.

What is the Farm and Food Workers Relief Program?

In the fall of 2022, the USDA announced that 14 non-profit organizations and one tribal entity had been awarded grant funding to administer the FFWR program (including the UFWF). These organizations are responsible for providing one-time direct relief payments of $600 to eligible frontline farm, meatpacking, and grocery workers for expenses incurred due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

FFWR is meant to mitigate costs for “reasonable and necessary personal, family, or living expenses related to the COVID-19 pandemic.” Examples are:

  • Personal protective equipment (PPE)
  • Dependent care
  • Expenses associated with quarantines and testing 
  • Groceries
  • Toiletries
  • Other at-home goods

Entidad’s experience scaling the reach and impact of relief programs?

Over the past few years, Entidad and the UFW Foundation (UFWF) have worked together on several projects, most notably on emergency relief services during the COVID-19 pandemic.

At that time, UFWF’s under-resourced teams struggled to operate emergency relief events and monitor distribution KPIs with pandemic imposed limitations. Previously, they had interacted with farmworkers in person, at various indoor locations such as their offices, schools and churches. But because of the dangerous conditions during the pandemic, that would no longer be possible. Events were required to be planned remotely, held outdoors in remote and rural locations, and with very limited digital infrastructure.  

To overcome these challenges, Entidad built them an application to plan, manage, and operate resource distribution events. In all, over 48,000 farm workers interacted with the app, which served as a proof point for UFWF’s ability to scale the reach and impact of their teams with technology.

UFWF received the 2nd largest grant of the FFWR relief program, close to $100M to distribute nationally. At that point, the UFW Foundation’s emergency relief operations were limited to a few states. The UFWF worked with Entidad to create desktop and native applications that would help them process and distribute those resources across all 50 states and U.S. territories. The program required grant recipients to perform community outreach, accept, review, and approve applications, as well as distribute, report on funds, and help farm workers communicate with UFWF support agents and track their payments. 

A deeper dive into the technology enabling UFWF’s participation in FFWR

Although the initial emergency relief project with UFWF was a success, the FFWR project is much larger in scope and required more complex functionality. Below, we share a bit more detail about the desktop and native apps Entidad has built to support UFWF’s commitment of roughly 130,000 payments.

The UFWF’s desktop app

Entidad’s desktop app is the UFWF’s support command center. UFWF agents use the tool throughout the day, reviewing and approving applications, messaging back and forth with farmworkers, and processing payments. Some unique features pertain to:

  • Eligibility. Farmworkers must validate their identity with proof of employment and a driver’s license or state ID. In the desktop application, UFWF agents can see and verify these documents and assess the risk of farmworkers applying for multiple rounds of payment by integrating with a duplicate checker created by the USDA.
  • Distribution. Reps can see where and how farmworkers want to receive their payment and can process vouchers or activation codes accordingly.
  • Reporting. Admins can slice and dice data to report back to the USDA about the status of their distributions and ensure that they are on track to achieve their goals.
  • Communication. UFWF agents can message farmworkers through the app, which sends a notification through the native app and a text message to their phone. This long-running chat functionality simplifies and streamlines communication.

A native app for farmworkers

The UFWF’s Preparese Mobile app was built with farmworkers in mind. Its intuitive interface, asynchronous chat feature, and status updates allow them to get what they need when they need it with little to no friction. Some key features in the native app are:

  • Security. Entidad and the UFWF care deeply about farmworkers’ safety and security. The native app has 2FA and biometric enabled, making it extremely difficult for anyone to view or steal sensitive data.
  • Eligibility. Rather than waiting several hours in line or waiting for several days with paper documents in hand, farmworkers can upload their driver’s license or state ID and their proof of employment to get in the review queue immediately.
  • Distribution. Now, farmworkers have a choice of getting a debit card delivered to their residence or picking it up at a location near their workplace. The options will encourage more farmworkers to participate in the FFWR program. 
  • Communication. Instead of missing work time to talk to a representative, farmworkers can use the native app to ask UFWF support teams questions and get answers fast.
  • Phone sharing. Many farmworkers share their phones with other family members, which can create data privacy issues. The native app circumvents these problems by creating separate profiles for one phone number – enabled through PIN numbers or biometrics.
  • Status updates. Previously, farmworkers didn’t have insight into their approval for emergency relief. The native app now shows users exactly what verification step they are on so they know they are moving through the process and know when to expect payment.

How farmworkers access the program

One of the big challenges Entidad and UFWF anticipated with this initiative was the high volume of inbound calls for the organization. One of the goals was to provide multiple access points regardless of their familiarity with technology.

Luckily, some farmworkers are already in the review process for relief payments. Parties who are midstream with their application will be sent a link and instructions for downloading the app. From there, they can adjust any elements of their profile they need to, such as uploading additional documents or entering an alternative delivery address. They will also see the status of their application and know exactly when their debit card is mailed and activation codes are released.

The UFWF also plans to advertise the program on social media. As a trusted organization, the UFWF already has a good relationship with farmworker communities and can highlight the program’s ease of use and efficiency in a way that appeals specifically to farmworkers.

The UFWF digital transformation is just beginning 

Through the use of Entidad’s desktop and native apps, UFWF will be able to digitally track the full lifecycle of a relief payment – something they’ve not been able to do in the past. And on the backend, UFWF analysts can track where expenses are going (groceries, toiletries, etc.) and how much more farm workers may need in the future.

When this project is completed successfully, the UFWF will be able to justify more funding for other projects – potentially with technology at the core. As a company centered on social innovation and impact, Entidad is honored to be a part of this inaugural program and hopes to be a central part of similar projects moving forward. 

Are you a developer who actually wants to make a difference in the world? Shape the future of digital wallets and contribute to the Farmworker Wallet OS Project.

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Julette Martinez

CEO, Farm Worker Organization