By Leah Douglas
(Reuters) – On the heels of an agency-wide plan to address inequity in its programs, the U.S. Department of Agriculture said it will distribute billions of dollars to farmers who faced discrimination by the agency by the end of this year.
The Biden administration has pledged to repair the USDA’s fractured relationships with farmers of color. Historical discrimination in the agency’s lending programs contributed to Black farmers losing $326 billion worth of land in the 20th century, a study found last year.
The agency’s latest effort is the distribution of $2.2 billion funded by the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) to farmers who have experienced discrimination in the USDA lending programs. The agency will contract with vendors and community groups to administer the payments by the end of 2023, it said on Wednesday.
“These funds are yet another stepping stone in the long march towards justice and an inclusive, equitable USDA,” said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack in a statement.
The administration is also issuing debt relief to farmers based on economic distress, which will disproportionately aid farmers of color, according to USDA data. But the administration’s failed attempt to target that relief by race, stalled last year by lawsuits from white farmers, disappointed some Black farmers.
On Tuesday, a commission set up by the agency recommended sweeping reviews and changes to USDA’s internal and external operations to ensure racial and gender equity.
USDA will select its partners in distributing the IRA funds by late spring, it said.