The U.S. Department of Agriculture is launching a commission dedicated to rectifying the agency’s history of discriminating against Black farmers.
According to The Hill, Ag Secretary Tom Vilsack said Friday that the commission will zero in on the agency’s structures, programs and policies that “contribute to barriers to inclusion or access, systemic discrimination, or exacerbate or perpetuate racial, economic, health and social disparities.”
More from The Hill:
The agency will also be forming a Subcommittee on Agriculture, it confirmed, that will report to the new commission and make recommendations “on issues of concern related to agriculture.”
“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,” the agency said.
Black farmers have accused the USDA of racial discrimination for decades, claiming that the agency is actively discriminatory when it comes to providing aid and loan forgiveness. Data analysis by POLITICO backed this up, finding that the agency granted loans to only 37 percent of Black applicants in 2020 while accepting 71 percent of applications from white farmers.
Years of discrimination culminated in a lawsuit against the USDA in 1997, known as Pigford v. Glickman, which ended with the agency settling the case for $1 billion in 1999 and providing payouts for several thousand Black farmers. Another round of $1.25 billion was made in 2011 for farmers who were denied payments the first time because they missed filing deadlines.
The Biden Administration attempted to further address the agency’s troubled history with racial discrimination earlier this year by providing billions of dollars in federal aid to disadvantaged farmers through the American Rescue Plan–an effort which was held up in legal battles due to white farmers (who, again, were statistically far more likely to get USDA loans than Black farmers) claiming that it was discriminatory and unconstitutional.
Let’s hope that some tangible action comes out of the USDA’s efforts this time around because Black farmers have been fighting for equity for far too long. There’s a lot more on the agency’s end that can be shown for it.