Press Release of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Equity Commission which presented its 2023 Interim Report to Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack today
WASHINGTON, February 28, 2023 — The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Equity Commission presented its 2023 Interim Report to Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack today. Since its launch in February 2022, the USDA Equity Commission, which is comprised of independent members from diverse backgrounds who have a personal or professional interest in USDA’s mission and services, has been working to identify how changes to USDA programs, policies, systems and practices can help lift barriers to inclusion or access and address systemic discrimination or racial, economic, health and social disparities.
Today’s report is informed by the work of the Commission and its Subcommittee on Agriculture. It identifies a wide-ranging set of recommendations for ways USDA’s headquarters operations, field offices across the country, and its various program areas can make changes to better serve the unique needs of the Department’s many and diverse stakeholders. The Equity Commission will publish a Final Report, which will also include recommendations from its Rural Community Economic Development Subcommittee, by the end of 2023.
“This important and insightful report from the Equity Commission will be invaluable to me and USDA staff as we continue to make the People’s Department one that lifts up everyone we serve, not just a few,” said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. “USDA is committed to turning the tide and ensuring those who seek access to land, capital, markets, nutrition assistance and agriculture education and experience can do so, regardless of their background. We’re confident the work of the Equity Commission will bolster our efforts to realize lasting change at USDA and are grateful to the members for taking on this work.”
Authorized and funded by the American Rescue Plan Act, the Equity Commission is an important component of the Department’s and President Biden’s vision to Advance Racial Equity and Support for Underserved Communities Through the Federal Government.
In addition to publicizing today’s report, USDA shared with the Commission and with the public an update on steps it has taken under Secretary Vilsack’s direction to improve equity and access and eliminate barriers to its programs for underserved individuals and communities. The report will inform USDA’s and the Equity Commission’s ongoing dialogue as the full 2023 report is finalized. Both documents can be accessed at usda.gov/equity, where USDA will continue to share updates on its progress.
“The Equity Commission’s recommendations address issues that are not new to USDA, but they do require a renewed commitment to improve access to programs and services for all stakeholders and communities, inclusive of people of color, farm workers, women, Tribal and Indigenous communities, individuals with disabilities, individuals with limited English proficiency, rural communities, and LGBTQI+ communities,” said Arturo S. Rodriguez, co-chair of the Equity Commission and United Farm Workers President Emeritus. “USDA has committed to reviewing the recommendations and identifying requirements for implementation, and we look forward to seeing continued progress and lasting change that will benefit all its customers.”
The Commission’s 37-page report and its findings are based on the personal experiences and expertise of its members, their collaborative and in-depth review of USDA’s programs and practices, and stakeholder input solicited through a series of four public meetings. Examples of the recommendations include, but are not limited to, offering new sources of capital to owners of heirs’ property and fractionated land, as well as steps to prevent the creation of these types of property to reduce barriers to USDA programs in the future; making USDA’s County Committees, which are an important mechanism for connecting USDA’s programs with farm communities, more equitable, representative, accountable and transparent; and improving language access for linguistically and culturally diverse communities trying to access USDA programs and services.
These recommendations were introduced by the Equity Commission and its Agriculture Subcommittee and voted on at the Commission’s most recent public meeting in early February.
The Equity Commission has been co-chaired by Deputy Secretary of Agriculture Jewel Bronaugh and United Farm Workers President Emeritus Arturo S. Rodriguez. It is comprised of 14 additional members, appointed by the Secretary of Agriculture, who are not USDA employees but who have a shared commitment to ensure USDA is a diverse, equitable, inclusive and accessible organization that upholds its commitment to civil rights and effectively advances racial justice and equity. The Equity Commission works in partnership with two subcommittees, one focused on agriculture that is comprised of 13 members, and a second focused on rural community and economic development comprised of 12 members. The subject matter experts on the subcommittees have been instrumental in developing recommendations on how to optimize USDA programs for the Equity Commission—the formal and official voting body—to consider, refine, adopt and include in this report. Equity Commission member Ambassador Ertharin Cousin will assume the role of co-chair with Mr. Rodriguez upon Deputy Bronaugh’ s departure from USDA. Dr. Dewayne Goldmon, Senior Advisor for Racial Justice and Equity at USDA will join the Commission as an ex-officio member to ensure the Commission maintains ample visibility into efforts underway at USDA.
USDA touches the lives of all Americans each day in so many positive ways. Under the Biden-Harris Administration, USDA is transforming America’s food system with a greater focus on more resilient local and regional food production, promoting competition and fairer markets for all producers, ensuring access to safe, healthy and nutritious food in all communities, building new markets and streams of income for farmers and producers using climate-smart food and forestry practices, making historic investments in infrastructure and clean energy capabilities in rural America, and committing to equity across the Department by removing systemic barriers and building a workforce more representative of America.