The U.S. Department of Agriculture has made $2.2 billion in funding from the Inflation Reduction Act available to any farmer who experienced discrimination from USDA loan programs prior to Jan. 1, 2021.
“There have been a lot of farmers that have faced discrimination in trying to apply for USDA loans whether that be based off of race or age, sexuality, gender or whatever it may be,” said Sarah Blankstein, who is part of the team coordinating applications for the program.
The USDA has contracted the Windsor Group, a company that, according to their website, helps government agencies with professional services and business solutions, to assist farmers nationwide in submitting their applications and allocate the funding.
“We are involved as a third party so that these farmers who have potentially faced discrimination from the USDA directly don’t have to involve themselves with the USDA again,” Blankstein said.
The Windsor Group established two offices in Ithaca and Liberty, where farmers can get assistance with the 40-page application for the Discrimination Financial Assistance Program.
There are more than 33,000 farms in New York, according to the 2017 USDA Census of Agriculture, but Blankstein said they have only received a handful of applications from the state.
Cornell Cooperative Extension in Tompkins County hosted a seminar for farmers to learn more about the program. Katie Hallas, the community food system coordinator for CCE Tompkins County, said they are working as a partner to help disseminate information about the program.
“The program is intended to address the historical discrimination experienced by farmers of color, women, and anyone who is a part of a marginalized group who may not have gotten access to the financing they were seeking due to their identity,” Hallas said.
The funding, in the form of a loan, needs to be used for specific resources on the farm, officials said.
In addition to impacting current farmers, Hallas believes discrimination by the USDA has dissuaded some from entering the industry.
“They often need existing wealth or help from a family member or some ability to have that huge upfront capital investment and if you don’t, it’s not really accessible,” she said.
Some of the other challenges in applying for USDA loans include access to the information, Hallas said.
“You have to have some digital literacy to be able to navigate the information and sit down for an hour to read through these really dense applications, so I think having a little technical assistance from someone is huge,” she said.