Paula Garcia, NMAA Executive Director, was recently selected to chair the USDA Minority Farmers Advisory Committee (MFAC), which is a committee appointed by the USDA Secretary of Agriculture, Tom Vilsack. The MFAC was created in the 2008 Farm Bill for the purpose of advising USDA on maximizing the participation of minority farmers in USDA programs, improving the delivery of programs to minority farmers, and advising on matters related to civil rights. The committee was chartered for a two year time frame and recently held a meeting under the new charter in Savannah, Georgia.
The committee held a three-day meeting during which several USDA agencies, including the Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS), Farm Service Agency (FSA), Risk Management Agency (RMA), and Rural Development (RD) gave presentations about various programs. In addition, the committee heard presentations from the Office of Advocacy and Outreach (OAO), Office General Counsel on the topic of the various settlement claims processes including Keepseagle (Native American), Pigford 2 (African-American), and Hispanic-Womens', the National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS), the National Appeals Division (NAD), and the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights.
The committee developed a tentative outline or framework of issues that will be a point of reference when making policy recommendations to Secretary Vilsack. Additionally, the committee prioritized two issues for immediate action:
1) Recommend that the USDA budget fully fund the 2501 Outreach and Advocacy for Socially Disadvantaged Veterans, Farmers, and Ranchers (OASDVFR) to the congressionally authorized level of $30 million per year. The 2501 program provides grants to community organizations and educational institutions to conduct outreach to underserved farmers and ranchers. The program was also expanded to include veteran farmers in the2014 farm bill.
2) The committee made recommendations regarding the discrimination claims in Keepseagle, Pigford2, and Hispanic-Womens' processes. The committee is requesting that the USDA Secretary take a position in negotiation of the Keepseagle and Pigford2 claims that would allow the disbursement of remaining settlement funds to claimants or to organizations/institutions doing outreach to those respective classes of claimants. Additionally, the committee is requesting that USDA reconsider thousands of Hispanic and Women claims that were denied in the adjudicatory process.
Each of the recommendations will be addressed in a separate letter from the MFAC to Secretary Vilsack. The committee will likely meet for one or two more meetings in the upcoming fiscal year to continue work on policy recommendations to USDA.