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USDA ISSUES ITS EQUITY COMMISSION'S FINAL REPORT
Source: USDA news release

WASHINGTON, - Today, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) held its inaugural National Equity Summit to celebrate the work of the USDA Equity Commission and recommit to the progress the Department has made under the Biden-Harris Administration to improve access and inclusion in its programs and services.

The National Equity Summit is the official forum whereby the USDA Equity Commission, comprised of independent members from diverse backgrounds who have a personal or professional interest in USDA's mission and services, delivered their Final Report to the Secretary of Agriculture. Simultaneously, USDA published "A New Path Forward: A Progress Report on the Implementation of the Equity Commission's Recommendations" to provide an overview on the implementation of the recommendations contained in the Equity Commission's Interim Report (PDF, 1.2 MB), which was published in February 2023 and highlights the work that USDA will continue to do to make its programs and service more equitable.

"Over the past three years, under the Biden-Harris Administration, USDA has worked to take significant and meaningful actions to address issues still being felt as a result of a system that has not been equitable for generations and ensure that the promise of America can be achieved in every community across the country," said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. "USDA remains committed to charting a future that creates, not diminishes, opportunity and key to this success is the hard work and dedication of the Equity Commission and its recommendations that will make forward-looking, long-lasting and transformational progress."

"It's not easy to look at mistakes head on and recognize where we miss the mark, but the Equity Commission is driving that work at USDA," said Agriculture Deputy Secretary Torres Small. "Secretary Vilsack and former Deputy Secretary Jewel Bronaugh started the Equity Commission to build a more equitable and fair future for everyone who participates in agriculture. Today is a momentous day as we receive the final report, recognize the crucial efforts of each member of our Equity Commission and Subcommittees, and commit to the work ahead."

Since its launch in February 2022, the USDA Equity Commission has served as a key pillar of the Department's efforts to advance equity. The Equity Commission has worked to identify how changes to USDA programs, policies, systems and practices can help lift barriers to inclusion or access and address systemic discrimination or racial, economic, health and social disparities.

With its final report, the Equity Commission is providing a set of actionable recommendations that USDA can take to modify programs, policies, practices, culture, systems, and structures to reduce disparities and advance racial justice and equity for underserved communities. The Final Report includes recommendations developed by the Agriculture Subcommittee and the Rural Community Economic Development (RCED) Subcommittee that Equity Commission members voted on at the last public meeting in October 2023.

The Equity Commission's final report includes 66 recommendations to support institutional change at USDA within the following areas: Advancing Department-wide Equity; Working with Farmers and Ranchers Day-to-Day; Supporting Farmworkers and their Families; Strengthening Research and Extension Programs; Ensuring Equitable Nutrition Assistance to those in Need; Recognizing Immigrants and their Families; Enhancing Rural Development Operations; Supporting Rural Communities; and Strengthening Rural Economies.

"Our recommendations reflect the breadth and depth of the Commission's background and the communities we represent, and it has been an honor to lead these Giants in their respective fields," said Equity Commission Co-Chair Arturo S. Rodríguez. "I came here to bring the voices of farmworkers to the table, and I leave here with not only an understanding of the needs of other stakeholders of USDA, but the utmost confidence that we will be welcomed to join the table at USDA moving forward as these recommendations are implemented by the Department."

USDA has taken swift action to begin addressing the recommendations that the Department has the authority to implement and to ensure the Department's programs, services, and decisions reflect its values of equity and inclusion. These actions will create an organizational culture that supports, reinforces, and aims to ensure equal access to resources, closes the racial wealth gap, and addresses the longstanding inequities in agriculture.

Final report recommendations have also been incorporated in the recently updated USDA Equity Action Plan, released on February 14, 2024. This plan is central to USDA's commitment to equity and outlines the actions USDA will take to ensure Department resources reach underserved communities and those with the most need.

"The Equity Commission recognizes that USDA is about the tens of thousands decent hardworking people serving within the Department and the millions served by the Department and acknowledges that this report is not the end of the equity work here," said Equity Commission Co-Chair Ertharin Cousin. "As partners of the Department, we will continue to make sure the voices of those we represent are heard as USDA carries out the actions to advance equity, strengthen economies and communities, improve support of farmworkers and their families, and more."

Following the National Equity Summit, USDA will engage with external and internal stakeholders across the country by leveraging Equity Commission members and their organizations in a series of regional equity convenings throughout the remainder of 2024. The regional equity convenings will be designed to feature the breadth of USDA's equity work, while also having deep-dive discussions on priority issues identified by members for ongoing engagement.


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