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The Department of Agriculture has announced an extension for its Discrimination Financial Assistance Program, pushing the filing deadline from Oct. 31, 2023 to Jan. 13, 2024. 

The program, created under Section 22007 of the Inflation Reduction Act of 2022, opened in July for producers who have suffered discriminatory practices at the hands of federal agencies like the USDA. While potential individual awards were not listed in the announcement, the program has a total allocation of $2.2 billion. Farmers, ranchers, and forest landowners are all eligible for the program.

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The deadline extension comes after feedback from potential applicants indicated the opportunity window was too short, per the USDA announcement. The new Jan. 13 deadline allows farmers whose harvests fall in the middle of the original application period to have some breathing room, and gives other producers time to pull together what they need for the application, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said in a statement. 

Notably, the deadline for requesting records from the USDA for use in discrimination program applications has been extended to Nov. 3, though the application process doesn’t necessarily require such documentation.

“USDA knows it must earn the trust of the farmers, ranchers and forest landowners who are eligible for this program. That makes transparency in the administration of the Discrimination Financial Assistance Program crucial,” Vilsack said in a statement. “In that spirit, after receiving feedback from organizations that have been supporting producers throughout the application process, we have made the decision to extend the deadline. We believe this is the appropriate action to take to ensure all eligible individuals wishing to apply are adequately informed about the program and have the opportunity to receive any necessary assistance.”

Initially, the USDA planned to have checks in the mail by “early next year,” but it was not made clear when late applicants would receive their funding. The program received a total allocation of $2.2 billion, but individual awards would be decided based “on the number of eligible applicants and the consequences of the discrimination,” per the USDA’s statement. 

Section 22007 funding represents the latest part of an effort that began in early 2021 under the American Rescue Plan Act. Under ARPA, the Department allocated $4 billion specifically targeting “socially disadvantaged” farmers, such as women, people of color, and veteran-owned operations. Under that program, awarded farmers would have up to 120 percent of their debt forgiven, leading to a cash infusion for some. 

However, on the cusp of that program’s launch, attorneys filed injunctions in multiple states on behalf of white farmers that alleged “reverse discrimination” and stymied the debt relief before it could be dispersed. While the USDA initially pledged to fight the injunctions in court, the agency soon conceded that the resulting battle could take years to resolve, leading to a significant delay in relief.

Applicants seeking more information, or to download and file an application, can visit here, call 1-800-721-0970, or email [email protected].