The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) recently announced the first steps in its process for providing financial assistance to farmers, ranchers or forest landowners who have previously suffered discrimination with respect to USDA farm lending programs. In addition, USDA set a target of distributing the allocated funds, which were authorized by the Inflation Reduction Act, out to borrowers by the end of 2023. This process has been carefully designed in accordance with the IRA, the Federal Acquisition Regulation, and significant stakeholder input.
Specifically, Section 22007 of the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA), signed into law by President Biden in August 2022, directs USDA to provide financial assistance to producers who have experienced discrimination in USDA’s farm lending programs and has appropriated $2.2 billion for this program. Under the law, the Secretary of Agriculture is responsible for administering the assistance through qualified nongovernmental entities under standards set by USDA.
“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. “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.”
Following President Biden signing the IRA, USDA took immediate steps to convene listening sessions and seek public comments about the design of the program to make sure farmers, advocates, academics, legislators, tribal governments, and other experts were heard.
Now, in accordance with the requirements of the Federal Acquisition Regulation, the Department will soon issue contracts to nongovernmental program administrators, as the IRA specifies, that will coordinate the delivery of a national program of financial assistance to impacted farmers, ranchers or forest landowners. The vendors will include a national administrator to oversee the program and four regional hubs that will be set up to solicit and process applications efficiently. Vendors for the four regional hubs are encouraged to partner with organizations with experience in agriculture and specifically organizations that work with and represent underserved producers and have a relationship with USDA.
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.
In addition to a national administrator and regional hubs, USDA will partner with community-based organizations across the country with experience in agriculture and reach into underserved communities. Building on work underway with existing cooperators and grantees through NIFA, FSA, NRCS and OPPE, these organizations will conduct outreach and ensure potential applicants are informed about the program and have the opportunity to apply. Organizations that would like to serve as cooperators should express their interest through an email to [email protected] by March 31, 2023.
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 Department will also reach out to trusted cooperators that can further assist eligible farmers, ranchers, or forest landowners nearer to their locations. These trusted cooperators will be drawn from those with long-standing experience in agriculture technical assistance, outreach, and support for the farming community.
By taking these important steps to fulfill the mandates of Section 22007, USDA hopes to recognize and acknowledge the discrimination suffered by individuals, take steps to rebuild trust with communities, and create a better and stronger U.S. agriculture that is more diverse and resilient. This is one piece of a much broader effort at USDA to improve equity and access and eliminate barriers to its programs for underserved individuals and communities. More information about this work can be accessed at usda.gov/equity, where USDA will continue to share updates on its progress.
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