$4 Billion In Debt Relief Is Coming To Socially Disadvantaged Farmers, Ranchers
In March, President Joe Biden signed into law the American Rescue Plan. Included is the Emergency Relief for Farmers of Color Act. It provides $4 billion in debt forgiveness to socially disadvantaged farmers and ranchers who’ve taken out Farm Service Agency loans. Latresia Wilson is Vice President and Co-Founder of the Florida Chapter of the Black Farmers and Agriculturalists Association (BFAA). She says farmers are excited about the debt forgiveness.
“It’s mentally relieving not having debt over your head, and also it could mean for some of them the difference between saving their farm or losing their farm as well as an opportunity maybe to have a new start,” Wilson says.
Wilson says it’s a good first step in addressing the discrimination Black farmers have faced from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), but she says it doesn’t help farmers who may have been denied loans because of the color of their skin.
“They were forced to get higher interest loans out at other commercial banks or farm credit unions and those of the like, and so those loans won’t be covered,” Wilson says.
She points to Pigford v. Glickman, a class action lawsuit where Black farmers sued the USDA for discriminatory practices and won.
“That discrimination showed that there is a consistent, systematic discrimination in terms of loans that were given out. They were either denied loans unfairly for being Black, or they were not given the same amount of funding,” Wilson says.
The Emergency Relief for Farmers Act states that Congress finds “various factors have contributed to the loss of Black farmers,” including “institutional civil rights violations by the federal government” and “difficulties accessing debt and credit capital.” According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, in 1920, 14% of farm operators were Black. In 2012, that number dropped to less than 2%.
Monica Rainge is USDA Deputy Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights. She recognizes that her agency has had a past of discriminating against farmers and ranchers of color.
“What we want to do is provide this historic relief to socially disadvantaged producers, so it gives them an opportunity, and it levels the playing field,” Rainge says.
She says socially disadvantaged farmers include those who are ethnically Black, Latino, American Indian, Alaskan Native, Asian American, or Pacific Islander. Rainge says those who are eligible for debt relief will receive a letter from the USDA.
“Once those farmers receive a letter, they will need to sign the letter and get it back to a Farm Service Agency so that we can verify the loan amount that is eligible for the debt relief. Once we have verified that amount, then the loan balance will be paid, and the farmer will receive an additional 20% to pay off any tax liability or other fees related to the debt relief,” Rainge says.
Rainge says her agency has identified approximately 16,000 borrowers nationwide who meet the definition of a socially disadvantaged producer. The USDA is also hosting an outreach event in Quincy for farmers with questions regarding the debt relief rollout. It’s being held on May 26 at the FAMU Research and Extension Center. The event begins at 6 p.m. EST.
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