WASHINGTON, Oct. 27, 2023 - The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) independent Equity Commission held its sixth public meeting to discuss the ongoing progress toward building a more equitable USDA and eliminating barriers to USDA programs and services. Over the course of three days, USDA leadership, including Secretary Tom Vilsack and Deputy Secretary Xochitl Torres Small, met with the Equity Commission and subcommittee members to reaffirm the Department’s commitment to implementing the Equity Commission’s recommendations.
“Thanks to the invaluable work of the Equity Commission, USDA has made intentional progress in our efforts to make the Department a more equitable institution that is forward-looking and prevents wrongdoings in the future,” said Secretary Vilsack. "Two years ago, when we began this process, we set very clear and intentional goals for the Commission and each member was selected to bring forth the voices of the communities they serve and their expertise to help us identify ways to design a better system that serves all Americans. I am grateful for the guidance of the Equity Commission and commit to ensuring their work lives on in a 'People's Department' that truly serves all equitably and fairly.”
“Equity takes a willingness to speak up and find solutions when resources aren’t reaching people who need it most,” said Deputy Secretary Torres Small. “The Equity Commission is doing the hard work of identifying ways USDA can best support farmers, farm workers, and a food system that serves us all. I am honored to work with the Commission and its Agriculture and Rural Community Economic Development Subcommittees to build a legacy at USDA that will benefit people across our country for generations to come.”
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. The Equity Commission is Co-chaired by Arturo S. Rodríguez, President Emeritus of United Farm Workers, and Ambassador Ertharin Cousin, CEO of Food Systems for the Future.
At the conclusion of its final meeting of this year, the Equity Commission, voted on 66 recommendations presented by the Agriculture Subcommittee and Rural Community Economic Development Subcommittee. The recommendations will be included in a full report to be finalized by early next year.
On February 28, 2023, the Commission and its Subcommittee on Agriculture issued an Interim Report (PDF, 1.2 MB) in both English and Spanish (PDF, 1.3 MB) that included 32 wide-ranging 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. USDA issued a response to this report (PDF, 642 KB), which, among other comprehensive actions the Department is taking, lays out USDA’s work to build a more just and equitable farm and food system and become an organization that is trusted today and by future generations.
In total, the Commission has voted on more than 60 recommendations on ways to root out systemic discrimination and create programs and an organization that intentionally centers equity and ensures its programs are accessible to all Americans. USDA has already begun implementing the interim recommendations made by the Commission where the Secretary has authority. Additional equity-related highlights include:
- Publication of a Department-wide Equity Action Plan as well as 14 individual Agency/Mission Area Equity Action Plans
- Hiring the first-ever permanent Chief Diversity and Inclusion Officer to lead the department’s Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Accessibility (DEIA) program.
- Partnerships with trusted technical assistance providers to ensure that underserved producers and communities have the support they need to access USDA programs. For farm programs, this includes improved assistance and capacity for the skills involved in successful farm management, such as business planning, market development, financial knowledge, and others. For rural communities, the strategy is to help communities build the futures they envision, assisting them to navigate and access programs from across the federal government and other providers, secure technical assistance, and develop local capacity.
- The launch of the Loan Assistance Tool, an online step-by-step guide that provides materials to help an applicant prepare their farm loan application.
Throughout its nearly two-year history, since February 2022, the Equity Commission has held six public meetings including three at land grant universities: University Arkansas Pine Bluff, United Technical Tribes College in North Dakota, and University of Arizona. In advance of each public meeting, members of the public are invited to submit written comments and also register to provide oral comments at the meeting. Members of the public are encouraged to remain engaged with the Equity Commission by visiting usda.gov/equity-commission.
The Equity Commission’s recommendations and the release of the final report will continue to inform USDA’s next steps in implementing each of the recommendations. USDA will continue to share updates on its progress at usda.gov/equity.
Authorized and funded by the American Rescue Plan, 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.
The Equity Commission is co-chaired by Ambassador Ertharin Cousin and United Farm Workers President Emeritus Arturo S. Rodríguez. Prior to March 2023, the Commission was co-chaired by former USDA Deputy Secretary Dr. Jewel Bronaugh and Rodríguez. It is comprised of 13 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 and a second focused on rural community economic development. 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 the interim and final report.
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. To learn more, visit www.usda.gov.
USDA is an equal opportunity provider, employer, and lender.