Since the new year, MCE has been monitoring activities in Washington D.C. with the convening of the 117th Congress and the establishment of the Biden-Harris Administration. We are hopeful about the impacts that various policies will have on small-scale producers, Black Indigenous and People of Color (BIPOC) farmers, children attending school, and food insecure families. Below is an overview of federal legislative efforts as of March:
Justice for Black Farmers Act (S. 300) – Sen. Booker introduced this bill in February and has several co-sponsors, including Sens. Warren and Gillibrand. The act will reform policies to end discrimination against Black farmers by the USDA, prevent further landloss by Black farmers, provide land grants to support new generations of Black farmers and restore land that has been lost. MCE has explicitly endorsed this bill.
The Agricultural Improvement Act became law in 2018 — creating an Office of Urban Agriculture and Innovation Production and an urban agriculture data collection initiative at the USDA. Efforts have been taking place to increase their funding. In 2020, the Office received 578 applications for grant and cooperative agreement opportunities, and with a limited budget they were only able to fund 10 grant projects and 13 cooperative agreements. We hope to see Congress increase this Office’s funding in 2021 and 2022.
The Farm to School Act is back! Delegate Plasket introduced H.R.1768 in March, with Rep. Fortenberry and Rep. Adams co-sponsoring. MCE and our members made calls and sent in hundreds of postcards and emails in 2019 hoping to see this pass. Fortunately, it has been reintroduced and we are hopeful it will pass later this year, providing greater funding for more schools to source their cafeteria food from local farmers.
Two bills we hope to see reintroduced from the 116th Congress (2019-2020) are the Strengthening Local Processing Act (H.R.8431) and the Agriculture Resilience Act (H.R.5861). Small-scale livestock producers have been hit hard by the processing industry and the Strengthening Local Processing Act would include policy reform for the USDA, including financial and technical assistance for farmers and processors — making local meat processing easier. The Agriculture Resilience Act was intended to address climate change by recognizing the role industrial agriculture plays on it and the opportunity that regenerative agriculture has to help build soil health and climate resiliency.
Lastly, MCE is thrilled about two specific components of the American Rescue Plan of 2021 (ARP) which became law in March. First, ARP includes the text from the Emergency Relief for Farmers of Color Act (S. 278). This component of ARP provides extensive debt relief to BIPOC farmers, acknowledging the systemic racism and oppression they’ve endured from the USDA, including the additional hardships due to COVID-19. Emergency Relief for Farmers of Color Act also provides support to BIPOC farmers in the form of grants, support with land access, legal assistance, financial planning, and creation of a new racial equity commission to address the systemic racism within the USDA. Secondly, the ARP includes text from the Expanding SNAP Options Act (S. 313). This component provides funding to create a universal online and app-based portal to allow online ordering of nutritious foods using SNAP. The act provides funding for a new technical assistance center in the USDA to help small retailers use the online platform — which is important because currently, Amazon and Walmart are the only two able to use the program in most parts of the country.
MCE is also excited about several appointments in the Biden-Harris administration. Learn more about these individuals’ background and the agencies they will lead at https://moenvironment.org/2021-new-administration/.