Black farmers want justice from the USDA
Farmer’s Rights and Consumer Rights Issues: USDA’s Debt Relief Against Wall Street Charges and Other Inflationary Loan Programs
The bill did include $2.2 billion to the department for farmers who have specifically faced discrimination in USDA lending programs. Congress requires this money to be disbursed by third parties.
As a part of the plan, the Agriculture Department created an Equity Commission. And Congress, led by Democratic Sens. Cory Booker of New Jersey and Rafael Warnock of Georgia, approved a large debt relief program.
Just Wednesday, four farmers of color in Virginia sued USDA claiming the repeal of the debt relief program and replacement in reconciliation is a breach of contract.
The original program was replaced with a portion of the inflation reduction act that provides debt relief for economically distressed borrowers. They also added $2.2 billion for farmers who have faced discrimination.
USDA is yet to announce how it will structure the debt relief effort. But the department has reviewed blowback over the delay to implement the promised financial relief — even while it was stalled.
Thursday’s request for information is an opportunity for farmers, advocates, lawmakers and more to provide advice on the selection of the third-party program administrator and how the department should identify who has been discriminated against.
In October, the USDA launched a request for information to gather public comments on how to create and implement the program. The department is currently analyzing the submissions made during the comment period.
The USDA is looking for different things from people and that’s why they have a very specific request for information. We want to have a program that works in ways that other programs don’t.
The USDA refused to provide direct loans to black farmers in the 1999 Census of Agriculture: An analysis by Stephen Miller, Sid Miller, and Lucious Abrams
In the US there are over 3 million producers and only 48,697 who call themselves Black, according to the new Census of Agriculture. A majority live in the southeastern and mid-Atlantic states.
Pigford plaintiffs, like Abrams, were supposed to receive payments after the case was settled in 1999. However, tens of thousands missed out due to confusing paperwork and filing deadlines and what neared attorney malpractice, advocates say.
In 2022, the department granted direct loans to only 36% of farmers who identified as Black, according to an NPR analysis of USDA data that looked at how many direct loan applications were accepted, rejected or withdrawn per each racial group. Direct loans are supposed to be easiest to get at the USDA. It’s for farmers who can’t get credit elsewhere that they are used to get land, farming equipment or other costs needed to keep the business afloat.
Barriers to access to programs range from incorrect denials, to cumbersome paperwork, to a failure to know what applicants could qualify for to begin with.
Stephen Miller, an adviser to President Donald Trump, and Sid Miller, an agriculture commissioner in Texas, were among the 12 lawsuits that stopped the program. They said the program discriminated against them because they were white.
The deadline to appeal the injunctions that froze the program slide was let by the Justice Department.
“The government vigorously defended this program in the courts but because of these injunctions, the $5 billion provided in ARPA remained frozen,” said Marissa Perry, press secretary at USDA. “This litigation would likely have not been resolved for years.”
It means complete cancellation for some farmers. Even though they had been promised full cancellation one year ago, it means partial assistance.
Lucious Abrams is the third generation to take over the family Georgia farm, an operation that has long grown cotton, corn, and soybeans. He joined a lawsuit against the USDA when he did not receive a loan to purchase the seeds and supplies he needed in time.
The farm business loan application crisis in Minnesota: black and Asian farmers, hemp farmers, and others are persistently left behind from the usdas loan system
The second round of payouts was increased by over one billion dollars. Many didn’t receive them due to denials of claims and processing issues.
The way people are farming is also changing. Urban farms, farms with multiple crops, hemp farms, and others also challenge the loan system which was originally designed for large, one-crop farms.
By and large, across the first two years of the Biden administration, Black and Asian-identifying farmers were the least successful in acquiring a direct loan, data shows.
There’s a situation where Hmong farmers in Minnesota don’t qualify for loans because they don’t have a written contract to back their claims, said the co-founder of the American Farmers Association.
The farm service agency doesn’t like to keep records and file taxes. And it’s all complicated by the lack of bilingual federal employees, documents and training materials.
They can take a farm business management course, but it’s done in English. And this particular constituency here does not read, read or write English fluently or understand, so they can sign up for the farm business course, pay $2,000 a year just for this course here and what did they walk out with? Stress,” Janssen said. “They walk out without any information because it’s done in a language that they’re not familiar with.”
The USDA is doing its part to build trust in the Indian Country: “We’re not going to leave that behind,” Ducheneaux said
“I take that very personally because I’ve been trying to get them in the door since way before I got here,” Ducheneaux said regarding barriers to access to the department that spans across race groups. My goal is for all of these to be as close to 100% as possible.
He credits lessons learned in Indian Country for some of the department’s solutions including working closer with cooperative groups. Through agreements with organizations on the ground that represent different producers, the USDA is trying to get information to farmers.
We think this is a good chance to leverage the trust that we don’t have in these communities. In many cases, rightfully so,” Ducheneaux said. Agreements are spread among old and young farmer groups, including the Federation of Southern Cooperatives.
These organizations report that they are able to increase staff, expand outreach, and give feedback to the USDA as a result of the agreements.
“We need to start rebuilding trust by acknowledging the fact that we treated some people poorly in the past and discriminated in the past, and still have practices that feel like discrimination today,” he said. “There is that inherent, intrinsic trust in that NGO or that nonprofit that probably in our lifetime, we’re never going to rebuild it at the agency or department level. We have to start somewhere, and that’s a great place to start.
The USDA Equity Commission, USDA Loans, and Payouts for Economically Distressed Borrowers: In-2022 Farmers Were Left Behind From the Usdas Lending System
The department announced this month that it will shorten the applications from 29 pages to 13 because of the need to reduce paperwork and speed up decisions.
Last year, the department also launched an online program to help producers understand which loans they may qualify for in an effort to reduce the rates of denials and withdrawals. The USDA Equity Commission was born out of a Biden executive order.
A group of people met in December to vote on over 30 recommendations that the department can start to implement immediately. A final report is due by the end of the year.
“We have not gotten any relief as far as the lawsuits and debt relief, and that will impact me severely,” said Rod Bradshaw, a farmer in Kansas.
As a part of the Inflation Reduction Act, the Democrat-led spending bill, members slipped in a provision that created a $3.1 billion debt relief program for “economically distressed borrowers.”
The department paid off 11,000 distressed borrowers, who were 60 days or more delinquent on direct or guaranteed USDA loans as of Sept. 30 last year, according to Ducheneaux. Over 11,000 producers have received a payment on their accounts as of January 30, according to USDA data.
White House Speaker: The Role of Advisors for Racial Equity in Providing Support for Black-Fox and Other Discrimination Prevention Programs
“We have to be open-minded enough to see if there are some solutions that can be brought to the table that help address some of those cumulative impacts of prior discrimination,” said Dewayne Goldmon, the first Senior Advisor for Racial Equity to the Secretary of Agriculture at USDA. “That has to be an important part of the process.”
“I would consider [the efforts] successful when my position is no longer needed. “You don’t need an adviser for racial equity when you don’t have one.” “I have to keep that goal in mind, but I am not being naive.”