Center encourages USDA to improve access to programs

Farm and Food

The Center for Rural Affairs recently submitted comments to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) on how internal policies and protocols can be changed to better advance racial justice and equity.

After many years of working in rural communities, Center staff have collectively gathered a great deal of knowledge about the specific barriers people can face when working with USDA.

From our work with Latino producers, the Center offered a number of suggestions to increase their ability to access USDA programs, such as:

  • Translating enrollment forms and 2018 farm bill information into Spanish.
  • Clarify that documentation of past agricultural experience in foreign countries is acceptable for qualifying as a beginner when applying to loan programs.
  • Hiring full-time translators so program information can be released simultaneously in English and Spanish, particularly during disasters.
  • Fully enact Limited English Proficiency policy within county offices, and post signs in Spanish.
  • Restore the Spanish version of the Farm Service Agency website.
  • Announcing program availability in diverse media outlets, using billboards, conducting outreach at a greater diversity of events, and developing more social media content in Spanish.

The Center also recommended that USDA create formal liaison positions to work with Native Tribes. A full-time Tribal liaison for each state in both the Farm Service Agency and the Natural Resources Conservation Service would help many Natives better access and understand the programmatic offerings of USDA.

In addition, Center staff based on Tribal lands shared that reliable access to clean water is a major challenge for their communities. The Center therefore recommended that USDA create and promote the Rural Development Tribal Technical Assistance
Office, as required by section 6302 of the 2018 farm bill and highlighted by the National Congress of American Indians.

Many USDA Rural Development programs could benefit Tribes, such as support for
housing or rural water and wastewater management systems. But, applying for and accessing these vital funds is difficult.

In looking at official announcements of Rural Development awards announced by USDA on April 22, 2021, and July 7, 2021, the Center noted almost none were made to Tribal groups, indicating room for improvement.

Another recommendation is that county offices offer more flexible hours. For individuals who work full-time during business hours, setting up a weekday appointment to discuss a loan application or conservation program may not always be possible. Offering flexible hours will help ensure these individuals have increased access to USDA programs.