May 12, 2022
In March, the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced a new investment of $25 million in grants for the American Rescue Plan (ARP) Technical Assistance Investment Program (ARPTAI) – a new program to provide historically underserved farmers, ranchers and forest landowners technical support in accessing USDA programs and services. The Request for Application (RFA) process is currently underway and closes at 5pm ET on June 1, 2022.
Initiated under Section 1006 of the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021, the goal of the American Rescue Plan Technical Assistance Investment Program is to improve “understanding of and equitable participation in the full range of USDA programs and services among underserved farmers, ranchers, forest landowners and operators through supporting the organizational delivery of technical assistance projects and establishment of technical assistance networks.” USDA will invest a minimum of $25 million in the program but also notes that there is no anticipated maximum funding level. With such an investment in supporting underserved farmers and ranchers, NSAC welcomes the opportunity for stakeholders to receive new federal support to continue providing technical assistance and mentorship services to these farmers.
The National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) is the lead agency soliciting applications. Projects are expected to run for 5 years with awards ranging from $500,000 to $3.5 million.
USDA will fund “cooperators,” who will work collaboratively with the agency through a cooperative agreement to provide targeted outreach and technical assistance programs to underserved producers. Eligible “cooperators” include nonprofit organizations and institutions of higher education, specifically:
Projects that include partnerships and collaborations with other organizations that have a proven track record of working with underserved producers and led by eligible nonprofits and institutions of higher education are encouraged.
According to USDA, acceptable technical assistance and outreach activities should focus on improving the producer’s access to USDA programs and services in the areas of agricultural production, credit, rural development, financial literacy, risk management, mediation, cooperative development, market planning, land access, financial planning, business planning, and tax planning. Activities can include:
Please note that incentives to encourage program participation are not allowable costs. However, participant support costs, such as stipends, travel costs, subsistence allowance, and conference or meeting fees are allowable under ARPTAI projects. Projects should incorporate promising and evidence-based practices into their technical assistance services related to financial assistance, market access and market coordination, land/water/equipment access tools and techniques, and key principles related to engagement in building critical agriculture infrastructure.
Additionally, project plans must include strategies for providing technical assistance, program development, curriculum development, deployment and evaluation of impact in each area of the planned activities for which the applicant is providing narrative discussion. This should include how the outcomes of the proposed program activities will be measured through both quantitative and qualitative methods.
For improved project success and effectiveness, applicants are encouraged to develop their proposals based on the following set of guiding principles:
One question that has come up is how USDA’s new ARPTAI program differs from the already established Outreach and Assistance for Socially Disadvantaged and Veteran Farmers and Ranchers Program or “The 2501 Program.” According to USDA, the main difference lies in who is being served by the new ARPTAI program. This target audience includes socially disadvantaged and veteran producers as does the 2501 Program but is broader and includes economically distressed, underserved, limited resource producers, and other key targeted individuals and communities. Note, for the purpose of the ARPTAI, there is no statutory definition for “underserved,” but the applicant is expected to provide “sufficient rationale and evidence the target audience is economically distressed, underserved, or a member of other similarly situated groups” that could benefit from technical assistance and outreach.
The 2501 program is also a grant program and not funded via cooperative agreements which establishes a collaborative relationship between USDA and the recipient. This means that USDA will substantially engage with “cooperators” in the planning and the delivery of their activities with underserved producers. This includes actively participating in planning and progress meetings, and reviewing technical progress reports.