The Agriculture Department’s new Equity Commission is seeking the public’s comments after its interim report called for more diversity on related county boards as part of “closing the racial wealth gap and addressing longstanding inequities in agriculture.”
Members of USDA’s 15-member Equity Commission, which was established in February 2022, include NAACP President Derrick Johnson, who recently flagged the state’s policies in issuing a travel warning for Florida, where agriculture is a major industry.
The Equity Commission will meet June 27-29, according to the Federal Register, and June 13 is the deadline to be scheduled to speak during the meeting and to submit written comments for consideration.
The American Rescue Plan Act of 2021, pushed by President Joe Biden and congressional Democrats, established the Equity Commission in the Agriculture Department.
USDA officials also say that setting up the Equity Commission follows through on Biden’s executive order on “Advancing Racial Equity and Support for Underserved Communities Through the Federal Government,” which committed to creating the panel.
Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack appointed the commission’s 15 members, who in addition to Johnson include others from Democrats’ constituency groups. Serving as co-chairs were Arturo S. Rodriguez, president emeritus of the United Farm Workers, and, until recently, former USDA Deputy Secretary Jewel Bronaugh.
Bronaugh left the Agriculture Department in January, asserting in a written statement: “We launched and I have been honored to co-chair USDA’s first-ever Equity Commission, which will leave a lasting imprint for generations to come.”
Other Equity Commission members, none of them USDA employees, include Elizabeth Lower-Basch, deputy executive director of the Center for Law and Social Policy, a left-leaning legal group, and Poppy Sias-Hernandez, named Michigan’s chief equity and inclusion officer by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, a Democrat.
The commission’s Feb. 28 interim report includes 32 recommendations and a final report is due by winter 2024, according to the Federal Register. The USDA website says that the final report will come by the end of 2023.
The commission’s recommendations include offering new sources of capital to owners of property; reducing barriers to USDA programs; making USDA’s county committees “more equitable, representative, accountable and transparent”; and “improving language access for linguistically and culturally diverse communities trying to access USDA programs.”
The Agriculture Department didn’t immediately respond to The Daily Signal’s request for comment.
In a public statement in February, Rodriguez said:
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.
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.
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