USDA Releases Updated Equity Action Plan

Published online: Feb 18, 2024 Articles
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Washington – Today, as we near the first anniversary of President Biden’s Executive Order on Further Advancing Racial Equity and Support to Underserved Communities Through the Federal Government, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced the release of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Updated Equity Action Plan. The plan outlines the actions USDA will take to advance equity and improve access to its programs and services for all stakeholders and communities.

“USDA is committed to improving access to our programs, equipping people with the resources they need, and improving America’s food system to create more, better, and fairer markets for producers and consumers alike,” said Secretary Vilsack. “I am proud of the work we have done and will continue to do. The Equity Action Plan Update reinforces USDA’s commitment to ensuring that the People’s Department is responsive and reflective of the needs of all communities and all Americans.”

The Department’s first Equity Action Plan, released in April 2022, described a subset of the hundreds of actions the Department is taking, spotlighting those with a high potential impact for underserved farmers and ranchers, families, children, and rural communities. In addition to the Department’s overarching plan, each agency has developed its own Equity Action Plan tailored to its unique responsibilities and stakeholders. Since the release of these plans, mission areas and staff offices have made great strides in integrating equity into farm, family, community, and food programs that touch every American’s life, every day.

This 2024 update to the Equity Action Plan builds on the strong foundation of the 2022 plan and follows the lead of President Biden’s Executive Orders 13985 and 14091, which regularize equity action planning and insist that federal agencies use all the policy levers available to make progress. The Department engaged in hundreds of engagements with customers and would-be customers through listening sessions, requests for information, outreach events, tribal consultations, and advisory committees. This includes USDA's Equity Commission, an independent body with 41 Commission and Subcommittee members charged with evaluating USDA programs and services and developing recommendations to reduce barriers for USDA customers.

“Equity takes a willingness to speak up and find solutions when resources aren’t reaching people who need them most,” said Agriculture Deputy Secretary Torres Small. “The Equity Commission is doing the hard work of identifying ways USDA can best support farmers, farm workers, and a food system that serves us all. I am honored to work with the Commission and its Agriculture and Rural Community Economic Development Subcommittees to build a legacy at USDA that will benefit people across our country for generations to come.”

These engagements helped inform which of the improvements in the 2022 plan are working, and which need further refinement and adjustment. As a result, USDA has identified seven refined equity strategies and four methods to operationalize these goals that the department will focus on over the year.

Updated Equity Strategies

  1. Ensure agricultural resources and assistance are broadly accessible, while creating more, new, and better market opportunities so USDA’s policies and programs advance agriculture for or all who want to participate, not just a few.
  2. Promote rural prosperity and economic security by connecting business owners to new markets, empowering people with modern infrastructure, and supporting community-driven opportunities and solutions to build brighter futures in rural America.
  3. Promote nutrition security and health equity through USDA’s nutrition assistance programs to ensure all Americans have access to the nutrition they need.
  4. Ensure equitable access to forest resources, funding opportunities, and outdoor experiences, and target wildfire prevention and conservation investments where they are most needed.
  5. Advance equity in federal procurement by providing underserved and disadvantaged businesses tools and resources to increase access to funding opportunities, and by helping promote safe and secure provision of services and supplies.
  6. Empower Tribal sovereignty and uphold treaty responsibilities to Tribes by removing barriers to access USDA programs and incorporating indigenous values and perspectives in program design and delivery.
  7. Commit unwaveringly to civil rights by improving tools, skills, capacity, and processes to enforce them more effectively and efficiently.

Methods To Operationalize Strategic Goals

  • Directing USDA programs to those who need them the most.
  • Reducing administrative, economic, historical, and other barriers to program access, and ensuring our programs include processes to assess, understand, and remove or mitigate such barriers.
  • Partnering with trusted technical assistance providers to ensure that underserved producers and communities have the support they need to access USDA programs.
  • Operating transparently and accountably, providing the information on Department programs that Congress, stakeholders, and the general public need to hold us to account on our equity agenda, and working systematically to collect and incorporate public feedback, including input from underserved communities.

USDA is also focused on creating an organization that systematically places diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility (DEIA) at the center of how to support USDA’s workforce and performance. Since 2023, the Department has been implementing the DEIA Strategic Plan (USDA Strategic Plan for Fiscal Years 2022 – 2026 (PDF, 1.2 MB).