Ohio office opens for farmers, applicants for USDA discrimination assistance program
The U.S. Department of Agriculture is accepting applications for its Discrimination Financial Assistance Program. Also, it recently opened an office in Central Ohio for eligible farmers, ranchers and landowners who believe they have been discriminated against by the federal agency.
The USDA is opening offices across the country to provide assistance to farmers and ranchers in protected classes such as Black and brown farmers, women, veterans and beginning farmers.
It's part of an effort to address long-standing discriminatory lending practices that existed prior to 2021. After years of alleging the USDA denied them access to low-interest loans critical to their livelihoods, Black farmers prompted the $2.2 billion initiative
Bill Miller, a farmer from Butler County and vice president of the Ohio Farmers Union, said discrimination, especially toward Black and brown farmers, continues. But he sees this initiative as a concerted effort to mend past practices.
“It's an industry wide problem. And so we're not talking about just the structural problem within the USDA that still exists. It's a general problem,” Miller said. “But small farmers are important to this country. And there has to be some way of protecting them.”
To reach as many agricultural producers, the USDA contracted the services of the Windsor Group to manage the application process in Ohio and other eastern states.
Cassandra Smith-Igwe, the Ohio Office Director for the Windsor Group, explained a farmer needs to have recorded proof of instances of discrimination to apply for the financial relief program.
“For example, if a farm owner applied for a loan and was told that he was approved and then later told that he was not approved, that would be considered a form of discrimination. Or if someone applied for a loan and there was a delay in the loan process or failure to provide proper assistance, that would be considered discrimination,” Smith-Igwe said.
Ohio farmers can claim up to $500,000 in financial relief. That application is free and farmers can apply at the Windsor Group office in Westerville or online. The deadline to apply is October 31.
Alejandro Figueroa is a corps member with Report for America, a national service program that places journalists into local newsrooms.