In a recent letter sent to 4-H volunteers, Washington State University’s Extension program, which oversees the 4-H youth agricultural program, informed them that they must be fully vaccinated by Oct. 18 to continue to participate in any volunteer activities. Local farmers who moonlight as lawmakers in the state Senate believe the mandate will harm the program. 

“It’s one thing for the state to mandate COVID vaccination requirements for state workers and education employees, but when this mandate is even imposed on 4-H volunteers, it makes you wonder where does this stop,” said Sen. Mark Schoesler, R-Ritzville. “The end result could be fewer people volunteering in 4-H, which would hurt the kids who participate, and it will ultimately hurt Washington agriculture.”

4-H is a more-than-century-old youth development nonprofit that provides programs focusing on science, technology, engineering and math (STEM), in addition to civic engagement and agriculture. The organization relies heavily on community volunteers, and the latest requirements could mean a sharp decrease in participation, a serious blow to the popular program.

“I’m hearing a great deal of concern from 4-H leaders around my district. Like other problems many businesses are seeing with hiring staff, this mandate will make it harder for this program to run effectively,” said Sen. Judy Warnick, R-Moses Lake. “Much of this program is conducted outside where safety protocols can be implemented without trampling on people’s conscience or medical decisions.”

Republican Senators Jim Honeyford of Sunnyside and Shelly Short of Addy expressed similar concerns.