President-elect Biden has made a historic selection to lead the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), while sticking with a familiar face to head the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).
Biden will nominate Representative Marcia Fudge (D-OH) to lead HUD, which will make her the second Black woman to serve as Secretary of HUD. Tom Vilsack, a former Iowa Governor and USDA Secretary for both terms of the Obama administration, was picked to be Secretary of USDA.
These agencies administer most of the federal government’s affordable housing programs, so who leads them has a big impact on the help available for low-income renters.
Congresswoman Fudge has served in Congress since 2008, and is a longtime member of the House Agriculture Committee. Prior to running for Congress, she served two terms as Mayor of Warrensville Heights, a suburb of Cleveland. She is currently chair of the Subcommittee on Nutrition and Oversight, which oversees the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly known as Food Stamps). She had been promoted for the Agriculture Secretary post, but her strong experience made her a leading candidate for a number of cabinet positions, including HUD.
Fudge is a former Chair and current member of the Congressional Black Caucus. Fellow Caucus member Representative Bennie Thompson (D-MS) gave Fudge his full support to lead HUD. Thompson told USA Today that “She has demonstrated at the local level as well as in Congress that she is up for the task. I can see no better person in a cabinet position than Marcia Fudge.”
Fudge is set to be the first Black woman to lead HUD since Patricia R. Harris under President Jimmy Carter in the late 1970s. In addition to her passion for food security issues, she is a longtime supporter of affordable housing. HUD will be a critical agency in the first months of the Biden administration. With millions of low-income renters facing the threat of eviction in the new year, HUD will play a leading role in helping keep people in their homes.
President-elect Biden chose Fudge to lead HUD not just because of her legislative experience, because she will have to work with Congress to help Americans facing eviction during the pandemic. He also chose her because she has local experience and knows how to get things done in the community. Biden told NPR that Fudge “understands how to manage challenges and forge solutions at a local level,” as a former mayor.
Congresswoman Fudge expressed her commitment to the HUD post. “It is something in probably my wildest dreams I would have never thought about. So if I can help this president in any way possible, I am more than happy to do it. It’s a great honor and a privilege to be a part of something so good.”
Tom Vilsack served as Secretary of Agriculture through both Obama terms, from 2009-2017. Like many of his senior picks, President-elect Biden chose Vilsack because of his experience. The two worked together for eight years under President Obama and know each other well. Vilsack has knowledge about all of USDA’s programs, and will offer a steady hand as the department gears up for many challenges.
Vilsack will face several critical issues in the coming months. The coronavirus pandemic has left many low-income families without enough to eat. Making sure that SNAP benefits reach everyone who needs them will mean that families can keep putting food on the table during this crisis.
President Trump’s trade wars with China and other countries have been devastating for farmers, and the pandemic has made it worse. Without steady help from USDA, rural communities could be crushed with farm foreclosures and job losses.
Vilsack will also have to address the looming eviction crisis. USDA administers programs serving millions of low-income rural renters, many elderly or disabled. USDA also has affordable housing programs for our nation’s farmworkers. They are among the poorest groups working in one of the most dangerous professions, even more so during the pandemic.
These picks are a good sign for low-income renters desperate for affordable housing. President-elect Biden has selected nominees with demonstrated leadership and management experience. They will need this experience to keep people housed as the pandemic wears on, undo Trump administration regulations that harm low-income renters, and start building more affordable housing throughout the country.