After a semi-vague announcement yesterday, the U.S. Department of Agriculture has published its first steps in the process for making repairs with farmers who suffered discrimination by USDA farm lending programs. The first steps outline a selection process for vendors who will manage the program.
Funds are set to be distributed by the end of 2023 by the Inflation Reduction Act, signed into law in August of 2022. Section 2207 specifically directs the USDA to provide financial experience to producers who have experienced discrimination in USDA’s farm lending programs, appropriating $2.2 billion for the program.
“These funds are yet another stepping stone in the long march towards justice and an inclusive, equitable USDA. Through this program and a neutral, comprehensive financial assistance process, USDA will acknowledge wrongs of the past and open up avenues that provide farmers, ranchers and forest landowners who have experienced discrimination by USDA the opportunity to be heard,” said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack.
Last October, minority farmers filed a class action suit against the U.S. government after being denied promised debt relief as part of the COVID-19 relief bill that passed in 2021. The National Black Farmers Association, founded in 1995 by Virginia Farmer John W. Boyd, Jr. filed the suit — Boyd is just one of four plaintiffs in the suit that says more than 6,500 farmers were affected by the USDA’s action.
Despite initial support by the U.S. Justice Department last year, multiple states heard suits against the American Rescue Plan Act filed on behalf of farmers arguing that the act discriminates against non-minorities
“In providing this financial assistance, our goal is to make sure eligible people have adequate, understandable information about what is available to them, how to apply, and what to expect from USDA at each step. As we work to make all our programs more equitable, accessible and accountable, we are applying these same principles to make sure all Americans know how to engage with USDA’s services so we can prevent more inequities and build new levels of trust with the People’s Department going forward.”
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The Department will begin to issue contracts to nongovernmental program administrators that will coordinate the delivery of the national program of financial assistance to impacted farmers, ranchers, and forest landowners.
Organizations such as existing USDA cooperators that are interested in serving as partners to the regional hubs vendors should send an email to [email protected] by March 10, 2023 to have the name and contact information of their organization added to a list of interested potential partner organizations that will be made available to all regional hub interested vendors.
The Department anticipates final selection of the vendors managing the program to occur by late Spring 2023. As soon as the national administrator, regional hubs, and cooperators are selected and prepared to begin the application process, USDA will work with them to disseminate specific details concerning the application period, with the goal of having payments made by the end of 2023.
The USDA announced a Strategy for Impact yesterday in response to Executive Order 13985:
- Reduce barriers to USDA programs
- Partner with trusted technical assistance providers.
Direct USDA programs to those who need them the most
- Expand equitable access to USDA nutrition assistance programs
- Advance equity in federal procurement.
Uphold federal trust and treaty responsibilities to Indian Tribes
- Commit unwaveringly to civil rights
- Operate with transparency and accountability