USDA to launch commission to address ‘racial equity issues’ within agency

Haiyun Jiang

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has announced it will launch a commission to tackle “racial equity issues” within the agency and its programs.

The move comes as Biden administration has made efforts in recent months to address the agency’s history of discrimination against farmers of color. 

The agency said on Friday that the new commission will advise Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack on identifying structures, programs and policy within the agency that “contribute to barriers to inclusion or access, systemic discrimination, or exacerbate or perpetuate racial, economic, health and social disparities.”

The agency will also be forming a Subcommittee on Agriculture, it confirmed, that will report to the new commission and make recommendations “on issues of concern related to agriculture.”

“The Equity Commission will deliver an interim report and provide actionable recommendations no later than 12 months after inception. A final report will be generated within a two-year timeframe,” the agency said. 

Multiple committees will be formed subsequently that will be devoted to a number of policy areas, including rural community and economic development, the agency said.

The commission will fulfill a component of President Biden’s American Rescue Plan, which he signed into law earlier this year, that provides funding to the agency to address historical discrimination and disparities in the agriculture sector, and also instructs the office to fund a commission that would be tasked with addressing racial equity issues within the USDA. 

The legislation also included billions in congressional aid to help socially disadvantaged farmers after years of discrimination. The move was celebrated at the time by advocates who saw it as a large step by the government to remedy years of discrimination toward Black farmers, who account for about 25 percent of socially disadvantaged farmers.

However, shortly after the aid was authorized, the funding was held up in court after being meet with lawsuits from white farmers and groups who argued the eligibility requirements were discriminatory.

The stalled relief has put pressure on Congress and the administration as many Black farmers remain in desperate need of financial assistance amid the ongoing pandemic. 

Tags Joe Biden Tom Vilsack
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