After openly campaigning to be the first Black woman to lead the Department of Agriculture, Ohio congresswoman Marcia Fudge (D) will be tapped to become the next Housing and Urban Development Secretary, according to multiple outlets.
Politico reports that Fudge will take the helm at HUD, while President-elect Joe Biden is leaning toward a familiar name for Secretary of Agriculture—Tom Vilsack, former governor of Iowa and former President Barack Obama’s Secretary of Agriculture from 2009 to 2017.
For weeks, however, Fudge had been lobbying to lead the USDA, where she hoped to change the focus of the department, moving attention away from farming and toward hunger, including in non-rural parts of the country, reports The New York Times. Currently, the Department of Agriculture is best known for its role in supporting farmers, but as NPR notes, the agency “actually has a much greater impact on the country through its funding of food aid programs, including the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program and school meals.” According to USDA estimates, during a typical year, one in four Americans will get food assistance through one of these programs.
As a congresswoman, the 68-year-old Fudge has served on the House Agriculture Committee, and her allies in Congress, particularly in the Congressional Black Caucus, had openly campaigned for her to head up the USDA. As Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris began their transition last month, Fudge told Politico she felt Black leaders were pigeonholed into certain positions.
“As this country becomes more and more diverse, we’re going to have to stop looking at only certain agencies as those that people like me fit in,” she said. “You know, it’s always ‘we want to put the Black person in Labor or HUD.’”
If Biden nominates Vilsack for agriculture, it would be a “safe, comfortable” choice for the president-elect, NPR writes. Vilsack hails from a rural farming state and helmed the agency for eight years. Notably, Vilsack forced Shirley Sherrod, a Black woman and the former Georgia State Director of Rural Development, out of her job in 2010, after the far-right site Breitbart posted comments Sherrod made out of context.
Vilsack later offered Sherrod her job back, and publicly accounted for the forced resignation, saying he made a “very hasty decision which I deeply regret,” and that he will “have to live with that for a long, long time.”
If confirmed as HUD secretary, Fudge will command a $50 billion agency that will need to tackle COVID-19 issues head-on, chief among them being housing insecurity. The country has long been in a housing crisis, which has only been aggravated by the coronavirus pandemic and an ensuing recession: millions of people are behind on rent and mortgage payments, and activists have been calling for housing relief for months.
According to Politico, the Biden administration “is expected to push for Congress to pass a relief package dedicating billions of dollars to rent relief, and HUD will likely seek additional funding to address homelessness.”
The news of Fudge’s nomination comes the same week more than 1,000 Black women leaders from across the United States signed an open letter to Biden and Harris, calling on the elected leaders to nominate more Black women for prominent Cabinet positions. The letter was led by the network #WinWithBlackWomen and includes more than 1,200 Black women.
It noted that Black voters, and Black women, in particular, played a crucial role in electing the Biden-Harris ticket.
“It is long past time that the effective, accomplished leadership of Black women currently serving in areas of significant policy that impacts our nation are recognized and given full consideration for the statutory positions in your administration’s cabinet,” the letter read.
The letter also floated several Black women for open leadership posts in the incoming administration, including Mayors Mayors Keisha Lance Bottoms (D) of Atlanta and Muriel Bowser (D) of Washington, D.C., to lead HUD; American physicist Shirley Jackson for the Department of Energy; and NAACP Legal Defense Fund’s Sherrilyn Ifill as attorney general.