U.S. Senator Tina Smith Introduces Bill to Root Out Discrimination and Increase Accountability For USDA Programs

WASHINGTON, D.C. [7.27.23] – This week, U.S. Senators Tina Smith (D-MN) and Ben Ray Luján (D-NM) introduced legislation to root out discrimination and increase accountability within the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the important programs under its purview. A companion bill is being led in the House of Representatives by Rep. Dean Phillips (D-MN).

The USDA Equity Commission was authorized under the American Rescue Plan and Inflation Reduction Act with the intention of addressing systemic discrimination within USDA programs. The agency has a documented history of discriminatory practices against black farmers and farmers of color, denying them loans and access to federal programs.  Earlier this year, the Commission released its first report, which included a number of recommendations. The Ensuring Accountability for Equity at USDA Act would make two of the recommendations law.

“We have to acknowledge that the USDA has a history of institutionalized discrimination against farmers of color. That is the history and we cannot shy away from it,” said Sen. Smith. “I’m glad to see the recommendations outlined in the Equity Commission’s report and will work to make sure they are implemented through this legislation.”

“Whether it’s farm program assistance or natural disaster relief, our federal agencies and their programs should be accessible to all Americans,” said Sen. Luján. “I’m proud to introduce the Ensuring Accountability for Equity at USDA Act to hold the USDA accountable by removing barriers to underserved communities and ensure equity across all USDA agencies and their programs. It’s critical to implement transparency and a sustainable framework in our federal programs for them to serve the American people and this bill will do just that.”

“Everyone should have the opportunity to build a life in agriculture and Minnesota Farmers Union (MFU) is proud to support legislation led by Sen. Tina Smith to ensure that no one is left out of the USDA programs farmers rely on to help them manage risk and otherwise build a successful farm business,” said MFU President Gary Wertish.

Rural and agricultural communities are stronger when everyone has access to the same opportunities,” said NFU President Rob Larew. “NFU is proud to support the Ensuring Accountability for Equity at USDA Act and providing a means of enforcing the objectives of USDA’s Equity Commission. Whether it’s through farm programs or economic development through the office of Rural Development, it’s vital that USDA addresses longstanding barriers to access.

The Ensuring Accountability for Equity at USDA Act uses the recommendations laid-out by the USDA Equity Commission to improve equity at the department and create a framework within USDA that is transparent to the public, USDA staff, customers, and partners.

Specially, the bill:

  • Strengthens the language from the 2008 Farm Bill around data, transparency, and accountability for socially disadvantaged farmers and ranchers. 
  • Requires USDA to assess and show trends in the data, provide a discussion of efforts to implement improvements, and track those improvements.
  • Harmonizes and expands customer feedback mechanisms across the department.
  • Builds the capacity of USDA, and in particular, frontline customer service staff, in cultural competency, programmatic and substantive knowledge, and translation resources.