July 24, 2020
Farmers of color and military veterans have historically struggled to access critical farm assistance and aid programs offered by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), largely a consequence of deliberate discrimination against them and insufficient outreach to their communities. Last week, USDA announced the availability of $15 million to support organizations working with these underserved farming communities.
To increase funding and support for socially disadvantaged farmers, Congress created the Outreach and Assistance for Socially Disadvantaged and Veteran Farmers and Ranchers Program, more commonly known as the “2501 Program,” administered by USDA’s Office of Partnerships and Public Engagement (OPPE). The program offers flexible funding to help farmers of color and more recently, military veterans, provide outreach and technical assistance that addresses the needs of their communities. The National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC) and our allies have worked to build awareness about the value of the 2501 program, and fought to permanently fund the program in the 2018 Farm Bill through the creation of the Farming Opportunity Training and Outreach (FOTO) program.
USDA recently announced the availability of $15 million in grant funding for the 2501 program, available for projects beginning this year. For grant applicants who are unable to complete their applications for this year in the 45 day window, another Funding Opportunity Announcement (FOA) will be released early next year for FY 2021 projects.
For project ideas, view last year’s 2501 grant projects here.
All applications for FY20 must be submitted via grants.gov by 11:59 pm EST on August 26th, 2020.
Similar to years past, this funding announcement is significantly delayed – being released less than a few months from the end of the fiscal year when all grant funding must be obligated by USDA. NSAC has flagged this consistent delay in funding as an urgent issue that must be addressed by USDA, or Congress. With a national pandemic continuing to impact the entire country – including farmers of color and the community-based organizations who support them – it is unacceptable for USDA to allow organizations only 45 days to prepare and submit complex and time-consuming grant applications.
The maximum grant amount that organizations can apply for has been reduced to $450,000 for a three year project, with the maximum award per year capped at $150,000. This is a change from previous funding rounds which allowed applicants to receive up to $250,000 per year. Applicants are allowed to request a one year no-cost extension if unable to complete their grant project.
There is no match required for applications and only one project proposal may be submitted per eligible entity.
Similar to previous years, grant funding will be awarded across three categories of applicants:
Funds will be awarded to organizations and institutions that have documented knowledge of and experience with USDA programs and experience in providing education and support to socially disadvantaged farmers and ranchers or veteran farmers and ranchers during the 3-year period preceding the submission of an application.
Priority will be given to nongovernmental and community-based organizations.
USDA is soliciting project proposals that address the following program priorities, which remain the same from the last two years:
USDA is hosting a webinar on Tuesday July 28 to review program details and address any questions from stakeholders and grant applicants.
For additional information on the 2501 program, check out NSAC’s Grassroots Guide.
While Congress provided $17.5 million in funding for the 2501 program for FY20, NSAC and our partners were concerned to learn that USDA has redirected $2 million of this funding to fund a separate, administratively created initiative, rather than support the longstanding 2501 program as Congress intended.
Announced only a few days before the 2501 program, USDA launched a new Centers for Community Prosperity initiative that seeks to address economic development in persistent poverty communities. While the new program does include socially disadvantaged farmers as a target audience, the program is broader in focus (including beginning, limited resource and other historically underserved producers) and much more prescriptive in project design than the 2501 program.
The program requires organizations to set up Local Prosperity Councils (with strict requirements for the partners that must be appointed to this council), rather than allow organizations to design projects and structures that reflect the needs of their communities. While the program may have some merit on its own, it clearly extends beyond both the scope and purpose of the 2501 program and should not be funded with designated 2501 funding.
NSAC is urging Congress to ensure this funding is redirected back into the 2501 program, as intended, and that future appropriations for the 2501 support the long-standing program to provide outreach and technical assistance to socially disadvantaged and veteran farmers and ranchers.
USDA hosted a webinar to answer questions and concerns from stakeholders about the new Centers for Community Prosperity initiative, including how the program is intended to align with the 2501 program. The webinar recording and FAQs will be posted on the OPPE website.