USDA makes plans for debt relief for farmers of color
The Agriculture Department is making plans to process applications for debt relief for farmers of color under the American Rescue Plan, and will announce those plans shortly, a USDA official said today.
The American Rescue Plan includes $4 billion for debt relief and another $1 billion of other types of aid to farmers of color. Black farmers have complained that the Pigford lawsuits against the Agriculture Department that the Obama administration settled did not include enough debt relief.
“We are considering a tiered approach which will allow us to process debt relief in different stages and will announce some next steps in the coming days,” Dewayne Goldmon, senior adviser for racial equity to Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said in an email to The Hagstrom Report.
Goldmon added, “The moratorium established on January 26th to stop all debt collections, foreclosures and evictions for all direct borrowers, including socially disadvantaged producers, remains in effect. USDA is urging all of our guaranteed lenders to follow suit.”
Goldmon made the statement after Democratic Sens. Raphael Warnock of Georgia, Cory Booker of New Jersey, and Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts held an online news conference to applaud the inclusion of the package for minority farmers, to call for its quick and effective implementation, and to point out that they plan to continue pushing for more aid for minority farmers.
“We want to thank Sen. Booker, Sen. Rev. Warnock and Sen. Warren for continuing to push these historic measures forward,” Goldmon said.
“USDA recognizes that socially disadvantaged farmers and ranchers have faced systemic discrimination with cumulative effects that have, among other consequences, led to a substantial loss in the number of socially disadvantaged producers, reduced the amount of farmland they control, and contributed to a cycle of debt. The American Rescue Plan gives USDA a new set of tools to begin addressing systemic barriers and injustices in a new way. We are in the process of seeking input from borrowers and incorporating their suggestions into the implementation.”
During their news conference, Warnock, Booker and Warren made clear that they view the aid to minority farmers as COVID-19 related.
While some Republicans have said that the debt relief and other provisions for minority farmers are part of what they consider Democratic add ons to the COVID-19 relief measure, Warnock noted that many Black farmers were in financial trouble before the pandemic, but that the pandemic had worsened their situation.
“Let me be clear. This is covid relief,” Warnock said. “By helping Black farmers and farmers of color we support rural communities.”
Warnock also noted that he has been appointed the chairman of the Senate Agriculture Commodities, Risk Management and Trade Subcommittee, and that he intends to use that position to advance his views.
“As a voice for Georgia in the United States Senate, as chair of the subcommittee I will continue to be a champion for agriculture,” Warnock said. “All farmers need and deserve a seat at the table and this legislation moves us in that direction.”
Booker, who with Warren had introduced the Justice for Black Farmers Act in the 116th Congress, said that USDA needs to provide debt forgiveness quickly and also allocate the $1 billion in other types of farm aid, but only after consultation with the farmers.
Warren said, “This not our end point, this is our beginning point. We need to do more to restore Black farm land, provide access to land and credit, achieve a new farm economy that works for everyone. This relief package marks our first victory for Black farmers, but not out last.”
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