The U.S. Department of Agriculture has expanded opportunities for stakeholders to comment on how the agency serves marginalized and vulnerable communities.

The department added two online listening sessions so the public can literally speak for themselves. And USDA moved the deadline for commenting from July 15 to August 14. 

The goal of the effort is to gather “input on how to best engage external stakeholders and community members representing marginalized, vulnerable, or underserved communities in order to increase participation in USDA programs, services, committees and decision-making processes,” according to a Regulations.gov notice

The department will offer three listening sessions on Wednesday, July 28 (10 a.m.-1 p.m., 1-4 p.m., and 4-7 p.m. EST). A second day of listening will occur Thursday, July 29 (7-9 p.m. EST). 

Registration guarantees that participants have a reserved spot in a queue to offer their thoughts. Each speaker will have five minutes to touch on their interactions with the USDA as well as ways the USDA can remove barriers and engage more with underserved communities. Participants are also encouraged to touch on topics like access, enrollment, and general customer service experiences.

Related Article: USDA Seeks Comments on Advancing Racial Justice and Equity

This opportunity is being implemented as part of President Joe Biden’s Executive Order 13985,  which calls for efforts across the Executive Branch to advance racial equity and support for underserved communities. The order requires agency-by-agency assessments for ways that they could better prioritize equal opportunities for underrepresented communities. The announcement says it is part of an effort to acknowledge and mend the historical, systematic oversight that has left some communities on the sidelines of beneficial government programs. 

Within a year of the signing of the order, federal agencies will create a plan outlining how they will promote and enact programs with equity and fairness at the forefront. 

In the coming months,the USDA will take the public input gathered from the  listening sessions and written comments and submit them to a newly created Racial Equity Commission.