Oregon’s U.S. Senator Jeff Merkley joined colleagues in demanding an explanation and answers after learning that the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) is diverting funds from a program that supports producers from diverse backgrounds—including farmers who are people of color, immigrants, and veterans.
In a bicameral letter to the USDA—which was joined by nearly 40 Senators—Merkley and his colleagues said that the decision to divert funds from the Outreach and Assistance for Socially Disadvantaged and Veteran Farmers and Ranchers Program was made without a thorough process for input and consultation from lawmakers, stakeholders, and the communities of color and veterans that they serve.
“During this difficult time, farmers across the U.S. face unprecedented challenges in keeping their farms afloat and their livelihoods intact. For many producers, the impacts of this current crisis are compounded by years of depressed prices, volatile markets, and historic levels of farm debt. We are increasingly concerned about the sustainability of our nation’s most underserved farmers who often have the fewest resources to draw on and who most need our support in these challenging times,” the lawmakers wrote.
They continued: “In this regard, we write to raise concerns that funding appropriated in Fiscal Year 2020 to support the Outreach and Assistance for Socially Disadvantaged and Veteran Farmers and Ranchers (i.e. Section 2501) program has been redirected for other purposes.”
The Outreach and Assistance for Socially Disadvantaged and Veteran Farmers and Ranchers Program is the only Farm Bill program dedicated to addressing the specific needs of Black, American Indian, Asian American, Latino, and military veteran family farmers and ranchers. The program aims to reverse the disparities that have existed for these historically underserved communities by funding innovative outreach and technical assistance programs through the community-based organizations, Tribes, and educational institutions best prepared to reach and serve them.
Find a copy of the letter here.