© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: United Farm Workers President Arturo Rodriguez leads workers in a march to City Hall in San Francisco, California March 31, 2015. Workers gathered to demand union contracts and fair wages on the birthday of UFW founder and labor leader, Cesar

By Leah Douglas

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. farm agency should make extensive changes to ensure racial and gender equity in its programs, found a report commissioned by the Biden administration and released on Tuesday.

The Department of Agriculture (USDA) has for decades faced criticism from Black, Native American, Hispanic, and other minority farmers, who accused it of discrimination in its program administration and lending practices.

President Joe Biden’s administration has pledged to improve the relationship between USDA and minority farmers and formed a 15-member equity commission in February 2022 to evaluate the agency’s programs and make recommendations.

“We wanted to get at systemic change,” said outgoing USDA deputy secretary Jewel Bronaugh at an event releasing the report. “This has to look different from what we’ve done before.”

Bronaugh, whose last day at USDA was Tuesday, co-chaired the committee alongside Arturo Rodríguez, president emeritus of the United Farm Workers.

The commission’s report looked at USDA’s work with farmers and ranchers, internal operations, resources for farm workers, and other agency programs.

The recommendations include reviewing and auditing Farm Service Agency lending programs, training county USDA officials on equity issues, creating an assistant secretary role for tribal affairs, and funding new programs and staff roles to support farm workers.

“I’m expecting and hoping that everyone at USDA understands the significance of this moment,” said agriculture secretary Tom Vilsack at the Tuesday event. “We’re anxious to get better.”

USDA has settled several class action lawsuits from farmers of color for discrimination in its farm lending programs. A report last year found that Black farmers in the U.S. lost $326 billion worth of land in the 20th century in part due to USDA discrimination.

The agency is also in the process of determining how to allocate $2.2 billion in funds from the Inflation Reduction Act to farmers who have experienced discrimination from USDA.


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