Vilsack receives Equity Commission report, makes changes to leadership

The USDA Equity Commission today sent Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack its interim report making 32 recommendations of changes to USDA programs, policies, systems and practices to lift inclusion barriers and to address systemic discrimination or racial, economic, health and social disparities.
The commission was created and funded by the American Rescue Plan, and its members were appointed by the Biden administration. It has been co-chaired by Deputy Secretary Jewel Bronaugh and Arturo Rodriguez, former president of the United Farm Workers. Upon Bronaugh’s departure from USDA, Ertharin Cousin, a commission member and former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations food agencies in Rome and executive director of the UN World Food Program, will assume the role of co-chair with Rodriguez, USDA said in a news release. Dewayne Goldmon, senior adviser to Vilsack for racial justice and equity at USDA, will join the commission as an ex-officio member “to ensure the commission maintains ample visibility into efforts underway at USDA,” the news release said.
“This important and insightful report from the Equity Commission will be invaluable to me and USDA staff as we continue to make the people’s department one that lifts up everyone we serve, not just a few,” Vilsack said in the news release. “USDA is committed to turning the tide and ensuring those who seek access to land, capital, markets, nutrition assistance and agriculture education and experience can do so, regardless of their background. We’re confident the work of the Equity Commission will bolster our efforts to realize lasting change at USDA and are grateful to the members for taking on this work.”
The recommendations ranged from offering new sources of capital to owners of heirs’ property and fractionated land to easing access to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program and increasing its benefits. USDA can implement some of the recommendations on its own, but others would require congressional action.
“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, farmworkers, women, Tribal and Indigenous communities, individuals with disabilities, individuals with limited English proficiency, rural communities, and LGBTQI+ communities,” Rodriguez said in the release. “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.”Vilsack also released a list of steps USDA has taken so far to achieve equity.
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