Vilsack meets South Carolina Black farmers as controversy continues
Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack will traveled to Rowesville, S.C., today, May 24, where he joined House Majority Whip James Clyburn, D-S.C, to tour the farm of Nathaniel Rhoads and discuss the Biden administration’s May 21 announcement that USDA is set to provide debt relief to socially disadvantaged borrowers as directed by the American Rescue Plan Act.
The trip to South Carolina followed a visit Vilsack made to Fort Valley, Ga., on May 21, where he joined Sens. Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff, House Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman Sanford Bishop, and state Rep. Calvin Smyre, all Georgia Democrats, to explain the program to farmers.
Both Warnock and Ossoff tweeted a photo of the group hosting the meeting.
“When we champion our farmers, we champion all of GA. As a leading agriculture state, the work our farmers do is critical to our economy,” Warnock wrote.
“I’m proud my debt relief & investment bill is now law, & will support GA Ag & help level the playing field for thousands of our farmers.”
House Agriculture Committee Chairman David Scott, D-Ga., said, “I want to thank Secretary Tom Vilsack and his expert USDA team for their work to implement the absolutely vital agriculture and nutrition provisions in the American Rescue Plan.”
“I am also pleased that the debt relief program for Black farmers and farmers of color that I championed is being provided quickly after the passage of the rescue plan, and I look forward to working with Secretary Tom Vilsack on our upcoming legislation, being drafted now, that will increase the market share of the agricultural products that are purchased from our Black farmers and other socially disadvantaged farmers which will give tax credits to those private companies who buy agricultural, food, and commodities products from Black and socially disadvantaged farmers and ranchers.”
Meanwhile, The New York Times reported that some white farmers are angry about the payments and bankers are complaining that if the guaranteed loans are paid off, the banks will lose interest income.
A USDA spokesman said that about 16,000 minority farmers who borrowed money directly from USDA with direct loans appear to have qualified for the debt relief, while 2,900 are qualified for relief for bank loans that were guaranteed by USDA.
Vilsack told The Washington Post that banks already have protection built in with prepayment penalties, which are fees that range from 3 to 5% of the overall loan that are triggered when loans are paid off early.
“And we are going to pay those prepayment penalties within the USDA. So they’re going to get a prepayment penalty payment. Banks will get that money back. And so, banks then can lend the money again,” Vilsack told the Post.
Vilsack also published an article on the subject in USA Today.
The USDA Farm Service Agency on Friday published the first notice of funding availability to begin loan payments for eligible borrowers with qualifying direct farm loans under the American Rescue Plan Act Section 1005.
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