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Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., speaks at the Republican National Convention in Tampa. Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., speaks at the Republican National Convention in Tampa.

Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., speaks at the Republican National Convention in Tampa.

Amy Sherman
By Amy Sherman August 30, 2012

Barack Obama proposed banning farm kids from doing basic chores, John Thune said

Hey kids on farms! Set down your screwdrivers and bags of seeds! Put your feet up and relax! Fire up the Xbox! The federal officials in the big urban city of Washington D.C. have put a target on family farms and part of that includes banning chores, says Sen. John Thune, R-S.D.

"The big-government bureaucrats of the Obama administration have set their sights on our way of life," Thune said during the Republican National Convention in Tampa on Aug. 29. "Instead of preserving family farms and ranches, President Obama's policies are effectively regulating them out of business. His administration even proposed banning farm kids from doing basic chores!"

Is it true that Obama’s administration proposed banning farm kids from doing basic chores?

We’ve heard similar claims about a proposed U.S. Department of Labor rule change about children working on farms. Members of Congress such as U.S. Rep. Tom Rooney, R-Fla., said the proposed rule "would threaten generations of farm tradition and culture....The language of the proposed rule is so specific it would even ban youth from operating a battery-powered screwdriver or a pressurized garden hose."

Rooney was particularly concerned about regulations on power equipment. We ruled his statement Mostly False, though, in April 2012. The proposed rule didn’t specifically mention hoses or screwdrivers, and the Labor Department specifically said it had no intention of banning children from using such equipment.

Thune introduced legislation in March 2012 to block the Labor Department from enacting the proposed restrictions.

The Labor Department wrote that the goal was to increase safety and provide parity between rules for children working on farms and non-farm settings. The department was specifically concerned about actual cases of minors killed or maimed in incidents with equipment on farms. But the widespread criticism prompted the Labor Department to yank its proposal, which never went into effect.

Parental exemption

Thune mentioned "family farms," which suggests Obama’s administration wanted to ban kids from doing chores even on their own parents’ farms. By saying "chores" rather than something such as "paid work" Thune seems to also be suggesting that this is work on their own parents’ farms.

For decades, though, a parental exemption has allowed children to do any job on a farm owned or operated by their parents. That means if Dad puts using a screwdriver or garden hose on the list of the kids’ chores, the feds won’t raise a fuss.

The summary of the proposed rules stated they "would impact only hired farm workers and in no way compromise the statutory child labor parental exemption involving children working on farms owned or operated by their parents."

As we wrote in a fact-check of a similar claim from U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., that meant no matter the government rules, if a parent who owns a farm tells a child to crank up the milking machine, there’s nothing to prohibit it.

That seems like an important and broad exception, given that the bill sponsored by Alexander and 44 others has as its title: "Preserving America's Family Farm Act." If you’re working your own parent’s farm, the proposed rules wouldn’t have applied at all.

The way the department interpreted that parental exemption -- that farms had to be wholly owned by parents for kids to work -- led to an outpouring of angry letters from family farmers who didn’t quite meet that strict definition. In February, the department announced that it would rework that section by 2012 and any decision on a final rule would follow.

But that still left a lot of proposed no-nos for children working somewhere other than their own parents' farms. Children under 16 would have been banned from harvesting tobacco, doing certain work with animals, and working from ladders or structures at elevations higher than 6 feet. Violators would have faced fines, and the government could have stopped shipment on crops.

Our ruling

Thune said that the Obama administration "even proposed banning farm kids from doing basic chores."

There was a proposed rule, prompted by cases of children suffering injury or death while working with agricultural equipment.

But the rule did not apply to kids working on their parents' farms.

We should note there was controversy because some farmers felt that the Labor Department was interpreting the exemption too strictly. In the end, the whole proposed rule was tossed in the trash by federal officials after an outpouring of complaints.

But while the proposal was alive, federal officials did not propose banning children from doing basic chores on their parents’ farms.

It's ridiculously false to suggest it applied to children of family farmers and even sillier to say it applied to "chores." Pants on Fire!

Featured Fact-check

Our Sources

PolitiFact, "Lamar Alexander says child farm labor rules could prohibit certain tasks, hurt family farms," April 15, 2012

PolitiFact, "Tom Rooney says feds want to ban kid farmers from using battery-powered screwdrivers and garden hoses," April 26, 2012

U.S. Sen. John Thune, Press release"Thune, Moran introduce bipartisan legislation to block overreaching DOL farm labor rule", March 21, 2012

Congressional Quarterly Weekly, "House Bill Targets Proposed Child Farm Labor Rules," Accessed in Nexis, July 28, 2012

U.S. Department of Labor, Press release "U.S. Labor Department proposes updates to child labor regulations,"Aug. 31, 2011

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Barack Obama proposed banning farm kids from doing basic chores, John Thune said

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