Legislation to Address Decades of Federal Discrimination Against Farmers of Color, Announce Major Aid Provision in Pandemic Relief Bill Introduced

The Emergency Relief for Farmers of Color Act would provide $5 billion in direct payments to historically-underserved farmers of color to pay of federal loans, expand land access and opportunities

 Led by Sens. Rev. Warnock, Booker, Luján and Stabenow, legislation to be included in $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief package

WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Senator Reverend Raphael Warnock (D-GA), joined by U.S. Senators Cory Booker (D-NJ), Ben Ray Luján (D-NM) and U.S. Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), introduced new legislation aimed at delivering direct relief to Black, Indigenous, and Hispanic farmers and other agricultural producers of color to help them respond to the devastating consequences of the pandemic and resulting economic downturn, as well as address longstanding inequity in agriculture. The Emergency Relief for Farmers of Color Act would provide $5 billion to America’s Black, Indigenous, Hispanic and farmers of color who, in addition to being hard-hit by the current public health and economic emergencies, have long struggled to keep their farms and ownership of their land in rural communities due to discrimination by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and other government agencies. The legislation follows the U.S. Senate’s passage of a budget resolution that paves the way for Congress to provide $1.9 trillion in critical relief and aid to help hardworking American families respond to the COVID-19 crisis, and will be included in the pandemic relief package.

 

“Rural communities in Georgia and across our nation have been slammed for years, and this once-in-a-century pandemic has put even more pressure on their hardship. Even worse, many Black farmers and other producers of color, like those I’ve met all over Georgia, have been left even further behind due to historical discrimination and a crippling lack of investment from the federal government for decades,” said Sen. Reverend Warnock. “As Congress prepares to send significant assistance to help the American people get through this difficult time, we have to make sure that Black farmers and farmers of color, who for so long have not gotten the kind of support they need, get the debt relief and direct assistance necessary not only to move beyond this crisis, but to grow successfully into the future—building generational wealth within their families, and helping keep our rural communities and economy strong.

 

“The COVID-19 crisis has created new challenges for American farmers, and in particular for farmers of color who for generations have been robbed and shortchanged by discriminatory federal agricultural policy,” said Sen. Booker. “I am proud to partner with Senator Warnock on this legislation to get emergency relief to these farmers. Eliminating inequitable and burdensome debt is an important first step toward addressing the history of discrimination at the USDA, and I look forward to working with my colleagues in the Senate Agriculture Committee to find every way possible to right these historic wrongs.”

 

“As a small farmer, I know that farming is a tough job on any day and COVID-19 has exacerbated the challenges facing New Mexico’s farmers and ranchers. Yet, Hispanic, Native American, and Black farmers in New Mexico did not receive their fair share of COVID-19 relief under the last administration,” said Sen. Ben Ray Luján. “Sadly, this treatment did not come as a surprise to New Mexico’s farmers of color, who have experienced discrimination by the USDA for generations. This legislation is an important step toward addressing this historic injustice, and it provides farmers and ranchers of color with the targeted relief needed to survive the pandemic and thrive in the years to come.”            

 

Historically, Black, Indigenous, Hispanic, and farmers of color have struggled to keep their farms and ownership of land in rural communities due to discrimination by USDA and other government agencies. Black farmers in America alone have lost more than 12 million acres of farmland over the last century, mostly since the 1950s: according to data from USDA, while at its peak in 1920 there were approximately 925,000 Black farmers in the United States, accounting for roughly one-sixth of U.S. farmers, by the year 2017 USDA’s Census of Agriculture reported there were only about 35,000 farms with Black producers — just 1.7% of the total number in the U.S. Additionally, hundreds of millions of acres of farmland have been lost across all communities of color due to discriminatory practices at the federal level, and many farmers of color who remain in agriculture struggle with burdensome debt.

To address this discrimination and land loss, the Emergency Relief for Farmers of Color Act provides $4 billion in direct relief payments to help farmers of color pay-off outstanding USDA farm loan debts and related taxes, and help them respond to the economic impacts of the pandemic. Additionally, the legislation provides another $1 billion fund to support activities at USDA that will root out systemic racism, provide technical and legal assistance to agricultural communities of color, and fund under-resourced programs that will shape the future for farmers and communities of color. Specifically, this $1 billion fund will include:

 

  • Grants and loans to improve land access & address heirs’ property issues;
  • Support for one or more legal centers focused on agricultural legal issues of farmers of color;
  • Pilot projects that focus on land acquisition, financial planning, technical assistance, and credit;
  • A racial equity commission and related activities to address systemic racism across USDA;
  • Support for research, education, and extension at HBCUs and other institutions of higher education that historically serve communities of color;
  • Scholarships at 1890’s land grant universities and for indigenous students attending land grant institutions;
  • Outreach, mediation, financial training, capacity building training, cooperative development training and support, and other technical assistance; and
  • Assistance to farmers, ranchers, or forest landowners of color that are former farm loan borrowers and suffered related adverse actions, or past discrimination or bias.

 

“The pandemic has left Black farmers and other farmers of color in financial ruin; many Black farmers are in distress and facing farm foreclosures. The Emergency Relief for Farmers of Color Act would provide financial assistance to help those farmers who historically have been left out of federal aid, and Senator Reverend Warnock and his colleagues should be commended on this needed legislative effort to help our nation’s Black farmers and farmers of color,” said John Boyd, Founder and President of the National Black Farmers Association (NBFA).

 

“Decades of farmer-led organizing combined with our heightened efforts over the last three years laid the groundwork for the Emergency Relief for Farmers of Color Act. Due to the injustices of the historic Pigford v. Glickman class action racial discrimination lawsuit, the vast majority of Black farmers were left with crushing debts, threat of foreclosures, and no legal recourse to save their family farms. For over twenty years, our farmers have not been able to stand fully in their freedom dreams due to this shackle of unconscionable debt—debt that originated from the racist misdeeds of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA),” said Tracy Lloyd McCurty, Esq. and Dekera Greene Rodriguez, Esq. of the Black Farmers’ Appeal: Cancel Pigford Debt Campaign. “Sadly, many of our elder farmers transitioned to ancestorhood without restorative land justice from USDA. We are thankful for the courageous leadership of Sens. Warnock, Booker, Luján and Stabenow in rectifying this shameful chapter of U.S. history through full debt cancellation for Black, Indigenous, and Latinx farmers. In the words of June Jordan, ‘we are the ones we have been waiting for.’”

 

For more information on the Emergency Relief for Farmers of Color Act, see the fact sheet HERE. Read full text of the legislation HERE.

 

Leave a Comment