The United States Department of Agriculture Rural Business-Cooperative Service announced Thursday that $3 million in federal funding was available for the Socially-Disadvantaged Groups Grant program, which includes licensed hemp business owners seeking technical assistance funding.
While the USDA Rural Development programs have been handling hemp-related projects on a “case-by-case basis” since the 2018 Farm Bill passed, legalizing low-THC cannabis, 18 states now meet federal hemp requirements, so hemp projects were explicitly named.
“With proper [federal] guidance and the activity of new state plans being approved, we felt it appropriate to begin inclusion [of] the hemp provision in our funding notices,” David Chestnut, branch chief of the program management division for the Rural Business-Cooperative Service told Cannabis Wire.
“The Agency has only recently received guidance on the use of federal funds for hemp-related projects. This is the first Notice that includes the hemp disclaimer, and will not be exclusive to socially disadvantaged groups. The same language will be included in future Agency program notices,” Chestnut said.
The notice about the open grant application window, which closes August 10, was posted on the Federal Register Thursday. Successful applicants could receive up to $175,000 for one year. Funds are expected to be awarded in September. The funding was made available through the Further Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2020.
The goal of the program is to “provide technical assistance to Socially-Disadvantaged Groups in rural areas,” according to the notice posted on the Federal Register, with a specific aim of “improving the quality of life for rural Americans and commitment to directing resources to those who most need them.”
Grants will be awarded to cooperatives and groups of cooperatives that specifically serve “socially-disadvantaged groups,” and “where a majority of the board of directors or governing board is comprised of individuals who are members of socially-disadvantaged groups.” If an applicant can’t show proof of this, they’re ineligible.
A socially-disadvantaged group is defined as “a group whose members have been subjected to racial, ethnic, or gender prejudice because of their identity as members of a group without regard to their individual qualities.”
Applicants are encouraged to “consider projects that provide measurable results in helping rural communities build robust and sustainable economies through strategic investments in infrastructure, partnerships and innovation,” which could include efforts that bolster the local rural workforce, or develop that economy.
“Please note that no assistance or funding can be provided to a hemp producer unless they have a valid license issued from an approved State, Tribal or Federal plan,” the notice read. “Verification of valid hemp licenses will occur at the time of award.”