Tester: USDA Cannot Put Funding Meant for Veteran & Minority Farmers and Ranchers Out to Pasture

Senator demands Administration stop redirecting congressionally appropriated support for underserved communities in agriculture

U.S. Senator Jon Tester is leading a group of his colleagues in demanding that the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) stop diverting congressional funding away from a program aimed at supporting the specific needs of veteran, Native American, Black, Asian American, and Latino family farmers and ranchers.

Tester and his colleagues are sounding the alarm on USDA moving funding away from the critical Outreach and Assistance for Socially Disadvantaged and Veteran Farmers and Ranchers (Section 2501) program, which works to provide support to rural America’s historically underserved communities by using innovative outreach and technical assistance programs through community-based organizations, Tribes, and educational institutions.

“Veterans, Indigenous populations, and other folks of color are majorly underrepresented in production agriculture, both in Montana and across the nation,” said Tester. “The 2501 program has long been a critical tool for bringing more diverse voices into farm and ranch country, and Congress has made it clear as crystal that this program is worth the money. This Administration cannot put Section 2501 out to pasture, because these folks need our support, especially now during a global public health and economic crisis.”

Congress provided mandatory funding to the 2501 program in the 2018 Farm Bill as part of the new Farming Opportunities Training and Outreach program, and in recent years, the body has provided additional funding to the program through annual appropriations. Recently, USDA redirected funding meant for the 2501 program to a new initiative called the Centers for Community Prosperity (CCP) without taking input or consultation from stakeholders or communities of color and veterans serviced by the 2501 program.

In a bicameral letter to Mike Beatty, Director of the Office of Partnerships and Public Engagement within USDA, Tester and his colleagues expressed their concern about the move, and demanded that appropriated funding for Section 2501 be used as intended.

“During this difficult time, farmers across the U.S. face unprecedented challenges in keeping their farms afloat and their livelihoods intact…We are increasingly concerned about the sustainability of our nation’s most underserved farmers who often have the fewest resources to draw on and who most need our support in these challenging times,” wrote Tester and his colleagues. “…We were therefore concerned to learn that instead of directing FY 2020 2501 appropriations to grants established through the 2018 Farm Bill, USDA instead redirected this funding to a new initiative created by the Administration–the Centers for Community Prosperity (CCP).”

The Senators continued: “It is our expectation that any and all additional funds appropriated in FY 2021 to support outreach and technical assistance for socially disadvantaged farmers under 7 U.S.C. 2279 be directed to the Outreach and Assistance for Socially Disadvantaged Farmers and Ranchers program.”

Read Tester’s full letter to USDA HERE.