By Stacy M. Brown
The Biden administration said it has as much concern for the plight of Black and minority farmers as anyone else.
Officials responded after Attorney Ben Crump and the National Black Farmers Association announced a lawsuit claiming the federal government breached its contract with socially disadvantaged farmers under the American Rescue Plan Act.
In August, Congress repealed section 1005 of the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021, which provided funding and authorization for the federal government to pay up to 120 percent of direct and guaranteed loan outstanding balances as of January 1, 2021, for socially disadvantaged farmers and ranchers, breaking the government’s promise and leaving farmers in foreclosure.
In the lawsuit announced on October 12, Black farmers said they relied on the federal government to keep its promise to fund $5 billion to the farmers when it passed the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA).
“The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) strongly supported the ARPA Section 1005 program and was ready to make payments to direct loan borrowers,” USDA officials said in a statement.
“However, the $5 billion that was intended to help farmers was frozen by three nationwide injunctions that prevented USDA from getting payments out the door.”
The statement continued:
“The government vigorously defended this program in the courts, but the $5 billion provided in ARPA remained frozen because of these injunctions. This litigation would likely have not been resolved for years.”
Because of the leadership of senators, including Cory Booker (D-N.J.), Raphael Warnock (D-Ga.), Joe Manchin (D-W.V.), Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), and Debbie Stabenow (D-Michigan), the Inflation Reduction Act moved to repeal those provisions and to craft something new, officials insisted.
They noted that Congress has provided $3.1 billion, allowing the USDA to work with distressed borrowers.
The move would help with their farm debts in “new and more effective ways to help keep borrowers as much as possible stay on the land, stay in agriculture, and maintain eligibility for future assistance.”
Additionally, officials said for farmers who suffered discrimination by the USDA farm loan programs, and Congress allocated $2.2 billion to provide additional financial assistance. We are moving aggressively to implement these provisions.
“I am excited that the Inflation Reduction Act clarifies and reappropriates this funding from the American Rescue Plan,” Booker said in an earlier statement.
“By giving USDA the authority to modify debt for distressed borrowers, we will keep family farmers around the country on their farms. For those farmers, particularly Black farmers, who have suffered USDA discrimination, this legislation sets a process to right those wrongs in motion. This was a team effort with Senator Warnock, Senator Stabenow, Secretary Vilsack, and Leader Schumer. I plan to work closely with USDA to ensure farmers quickly get the support they have been waiting for and desperately need.”
In a later tweet, Booker said he’s proud that the Inflation Reduction Act contained more than $5 billion to enable thousands of struggling small farmers to stay on their land and provide financial assistance to Black farmers and others who have suffered from USDA discrimination.”
“This relief will be a lifeline for our farmers who are most at-risk of foreclosure or losing their land, as well as a boost to farmers who have been left behind for decades… [the aid] is significant for economically distressed farmers all across Georgia and the country,” added Warnock.
Further, Willard Tillman, executive director of the Oklahoma Black Historical Research Project, Inc., said his organization was aware that including the provisions took tremendous energy and commitment to underserved producers.
“We further congratulate and thank Senator Manchin and Senator Chuck Schumer for including this support for farmers and local food systems in West Virginia and beyond, and for their dedication to getting this historic bill assembled and passed and sent to the House of Representatives,” Tillman said in August.
USDA official and retired farmer Lloyd Wright also praised the administration’s action.
“This is better than any of the other versions,” Wright stated.
“They’re going to have to do some paperwork to document the discrimination that occurred, but we can work through that. So, I think it’s really going to help the Black community.”
Sara Vogel, former North Dakota Commissioner of Agriculture who led class action lawsuits against USDA in the 1980s, called the bill “comprehensive.”
“The bill is comprehensive, and it’s going to reach many borrowers in need of services or who had suffered discrimination in the past,” Vogel insisted.
Rudy Arredondo, the executive director of the National Latino Farmers and Ranchers, also called the Inflation Reduction Act an example of the collective effort for a sustainable future and future generations.”