25 September 2021, Washington: The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) today announced it will establish an Equity Commission and is requesting nominations for membership on the Equity Commission Advisory Committee and Equity Commission Subcommittee on Agriculture. The Notice represents an important step towards implementing President Biden’s commitment to create an Equity Commission and the American Rescue Plan Act provision that directs USDA to “address historical discrimination and disparities in the agriculture sector… [through] one or more equity commissions to address racial equity issues within USDA and its programs.”
“USDA is committed to advancing equity throughout our Department,” said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. “The Equity Commission is an important step in dismantling barriers historically underserved communities have faced in accessing USDA programs and services, especially with regard to access and inclusion in USDA agricultural programs and services. The Equity Commission will be an invaluable advisor on USDA’s continuing march towards justice and equity; we look forward to receiving a wide-ranging and diverse set of nominations from the public to serve on this transformational commission.”
“Today truly is a historic day at USDA. We are serious about our efforts to end discrimination across all areas of the Department and to improving access to services for key stakeholders,” said Deputy Secretary Jewel Bronaugh. “The American Rescue Plan supports USDA’s effort to address equity issues through the creation of an Equity Commission; we understand the importance of involving the public in this process of continuing to build trust among our customers and ensure fair and equitable programming, benefits, and services.”
The Equity Commission will advise the Secretary of Agriculture by identifying USDA programs, policies, systems, structures, and practices that contribute to barriers to inclusion or access, systemic discrimination, or exacerbate or perpetuate racial, economic, health and social disparities. The Subcommittee on Agriculture will be formed concurrently and will report back to the Equity Commission and provide recommendations on issues of concern related to agriculture. Subsequent subcommittees will focus on other policy areas, such as rural community and economic development. 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.
USDA is soliciting nominations to consider membership on both the Equity Commission and the Subcommittee on Agriculture. Both seek to reflect a diversity in demographics, regions of the country, background, and in experience and expertise. The Equity Commission and Subcommittee on Agriculture will require substantial representation from those whose mission is to serve or advocate for underserved communities, minorities, women, individuals with disabilities, individuals with limited English proficiency, rural communities, and LGBTQI+ communities. Other perspectives to capture include those from the small business community, higher education institutions, farmworker groups, and members of the American population and communities who bring their personal experiences to the discussion.
Nomination for the Equity Commission and the Subcommittee on Agriculture membership is open to the public and any interested person or organization may nominate qualified individuals for membership. The Equity Commission and the Subcommittee on Agriculture will each be comprised of 15 members. The Deputy and the Secretary will designate a Co-Chair to serve along with the Deputy Secretary as co-chairs of the Equity Commission.
President Biden signed an Executive Order On Advancing Racial Equity and Support for Underserved Communities Through the Federal Government and committed to creating an Equity Commission as part of his rural agenda and commitment to closing the racial wealth gap and addressing longstanding inequities in agriculture. Section 1006 of the American Rescue Plan directed USDA to create the Equity Commission and funded the effort along with an additional $1 billion in funding to support forward-looking activities that will advance equity and opportunity for historically underserved farmers, ranchers, forest land owners. The funding will be utilized to remove gaps that currently exist in USDA program benefits, improve access to resources, and restore trust and confidence in the Department for groups that have not had equal access to such resources through a combination of grants, loans, pilot programs, technical assistance, cooperative agreements, and more. In June, USDA published a Request for Information on Racial Justice and Equity and held over 15 hours of listening sessions with a wide-range of stakeholders to learn about experiences and receive feedback about its programs and services. The information collected will serve as a strong foundation for both the Equity Commission and to ensure these funds are deployed effectively and in response to the needs and priorities of underserved communities.