On July 10th, the USDA’s Office of Partnerships and Public Relations (OPPE) released the request for applications for the Centers of Community Prosperity Grant. This initiative is funded with $2 million from appropriations* provided to the Outreach and Assistance to Socially Disadvantaged and Veteran Farmers and Ranchers Program (also called the 2501 Program) and $2 million from Conservation Technical Assistance funding.
Created in 1990, the 2501 Program is the only USDA program specifically dedicated to achieving equitable access to programs and services for African American, American Indian, Asian American, Latinx, and military veteran farmers and ranchers. The National Young Farmers Coalition helped advocate to secure its ongoing baseline* funding in the 2018 Farm Bill and for additional appropriations* funding in FY20; this additional funding brought the 2501 Program back to historic funding levels when combined with the funding that was included in the Farm Bill.
The Centers of Community Prosperity Grant is described by USDA as an extension of the 2501 Program that uses the same Congressional authority. However, there are two significant differences from the way that the 2501 Program has been historically implemented that are pointed out by OPPE. Notably, the Centers of Community Prosperity Grant requires that eligible entities create a Local Prosperity Council that consists of community leaders, potentially including a “mayor, county planning committee, board of supervisors, superintendents and Board of Education, farmers, ranchers, agriculture producers, and faith-based organizations.” This is a new requirement that may represent a significant amount of additional work above and beyond providing technical assistance and outreach to farmers of color. In addition, this funding will be specifically targeted to persistent poverty communities.
A teleconference hosted by OPPE about the Centers of Community Prosperity Grant on Friday, July 24th provided some additional information (you can find the FAQ from the event here and a recording here). While it seems to have clarified that Centers of Community Prosperity Grant projects will be required to serve farmers of color and veteran farmers (as opposed to simply giving preference to those farmers), and that eligible entities will be required to demonstrate experience working with farmers of color and veteran farmers for at least 3 years (as required for the 2501 Program), this was not clear in the initial funding announcement. Further, there remain questions about the creation of this grant. At present, it is unclear if stakeholders were consulted in the development of this funding proposal, although the 2018 Farm Bill requires such engagement for the 2501 Program.
To answer some of these questions, Young Farmers worked with Senator Smith (D-MN), Representative Lujan (D-NM), and partner organizations in sending a Dear Colleague letter to ask clarifying questions about this funding opportunity and to request specific reporting on how the funding will be spent as required by the 2501 Program statute. Read the letter they sent to USDA here.
*A quick note on funding terminology: Appropriations funds are those allocated by Congress each year. Mandatory funds are those that are laid out in the Farm Bill (or other similar legislation). The 2501 Program received “baseline” funding in the Farm Bill, meaning that it has a starting baseline amount that will carry over between farm bills as opposed to starting from zero with each farm bill negotiation.