Press Release: Senator Van Hollen Introduces Bill to Improve Assistance for Disadvantaged and Veteran Farmers and Ranchers

Advocates praise changes to improve efficiency, transparency and accountability for underserved farmers and ranchers

For Immediate Release
May 15, 2018

(Washington, D.C.) –

Today, Senator Chris Van Hollen (D-MD) and Senator Tina Smith (D-MN) introduced a bill that would improve assistance to underserved populations in the farming community. The “Assist Socially Disadvantaged and Veteran Farmers and Ranchers Act of 2018” would strengthen and streamline the grant program and enhance transparency and accountability of the process and its results. Senators Doug Jones (D-Ala.), Tom Udall (D-N.M.), and Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.) also co-sponsored the legislation and Congresswoman Michelle Lujan Grisham (NM-01) is the lead sponsor of the cross-filed bill in the House of Representatives.

Sustainable farming and food system advocates praised the introduction of the bill.

“In order to build an equitable food system from farm to fork, farmers of color and veteran farmers must get a fair shake,” said Alicia LaPorte, Fair Farms Campaign Manager. “Due to a long history of systemic discrimination, many farmers have not been able to take advantage of important government services and support. Now Senators Van Hollen and Smith have proposed a bill that bolsters and improves a crucial program that aims to level the playing field for these farmers.”

Established by the Food, Agriculture, Conservation and Trade Act of 1990, the Socially Disadvantaged and Veteran Farmers and Ranchers Program (also known as the 2501 Program) at the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) aims to help underserved producers gain access to USDA services. Farmers of color are historically underrepresented in many USDA outreach and assistance programs. Because of this and other factors, farming is more than 90 percent white, according to 2016 data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The 2501 Program provides funding, technical assistance and education to ensure that African American, Asian American, Hispanic, Native American, immigrant and veteran farmers and ranchers have opportunities to successfully own, operate and retain their operations.

Senator Van Hollen’s legislation would reauthorize the program until 2023 and include several needed changes. The bill would establish the grant period for three years with a max of $200,000 a year rather than just one year at a time, which had been an administrative burden for both applicants and the USDA. The bill would also add increased accountability and transparency through a new peer review process for grants and by requiring annual public reports for each county and state in the U.S. on the participation by race, gender, ethnicity, and veteran status in all USDA programs serving farmers or ranchers.

“Farming has allowed me to find purpose and meaning in my life after serving in the military,” said Peter Scott, a veteran, farmer and founder of Fields 4 Valor, a non-profit organization based out of Brandywine, Md. that provides food, culinary and farming education and employment to veterans and their families. “As a small diversified farm operation, it takes years to establish different enterprises on the farm. This program will help me and other military veterans nurture their communities and find peace after war.”

According to USDA, to date the program has supported assistance to over 100,000 farmers. The program received a record number of applications in fiscal year 2016 – 296 applicants requested funding totaling over $29 million. Only 49 projects received funding.

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Fair Farms is building a movement of Marylanders of all stripes, working together for a new food system — one that is fair to farmers, invests in homegrown healthy foods, and restores our waterways. www.fairfarmsnow.org

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