By Ramona du Houx FEBRUARY 09, 2021 WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senators Cory Booker (D-NJ), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Tina Smith (D-MN), Reverend Raphael Warnock (D-GA), and Patrick Leahy (D-VT) announced landmark legislation aimed at addressing and correcting historic discrimination within the U.S. Department of Agriculture in federal farm assistance and lending that has caused Black farmers to lose […]
By Ramona du Houx
FEBRUARY 09, 2021
WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senators Cory Booker (D-NJ), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Tina Smith (D-MN), Reverend Raphael Warnock (D-GA), and Patrick Leahy (D-VT) announced landmark legislation aimed at addressing and correcting historic discrimination within the U.S. Department of Agriculture in federal farm assistance and lending that has caused Black farmers to lose millions of acres of farmland and robbed Black farmers and their families of the hundreds of billions of dollars of inter-generational wealth that land represented. Senator Booker originally introduced the legislation in 2020.
In 1920, around 1 million Black farmers worked on 41 million acres of land. Today there are less than 50,000 Black farmers, who make up just less than 2 percent of the nation’s farmers due to systemic racism built into our federal and local governments.
“The Justice for Black Farmers Act is the most ambitious legislative proposal ever developed to address historic and ongoing discrimination against Black farmers,” said John Boyd, Founder and President of the National Black Farmers Association (NBFA). “As NBFA and the Environmental Working Group recently documented, Black farmers have been systemically denied access to land, subsidies, loans and other critical tools through government and private discrimination, and the institutional racism that has driven Black land loss is being reinforced through the USDA’s broken policies. By providing new access to land and credit and providing debt relief, the Justice for Black Farmers Act will help right these historic wrongs. By providing new oversight and accountability within the USDA, the Justice for Black Farmers Act will help address the roots of the USDA’s racist history. By making an unprecedented investment in training through historically Black colleges and universities and groups like the National Black Farmers Association, the Justice for Black Farmers Act will ensure that Black farmers have the tools they need to succeed. These reforms are long overdue.”
The Justice for Black Farmers Act will enact policies to end discrimination within the USDA, protect remaining Black farmers from losing their land, provide land grants to create a new generation of Black farmers and restore the land base that has been lost, and implement systemic reforms to help family farmers across the United States.
“Overtly discriminatory and unjust federal policy has robbed Black families in the United States of the ability to build and pass on intergenerational wealth,” said Senator Booker. “When it comes to farming and agriculture, we know that there is a direct connection between discriminatory policies within the USDA and the enormous land loss we have seen among Black farmers over the past century. The Justice for Black Farmers Act will address and correct USDA discrimination and take bold steps to forgive debt and restore the land that has been lost in order to empower a new generation of Black farmers to succeed and thrive. As a new member on the Agriculture committee, I am proud to re-introduce this landmark legislation alongside my colleagues as we work to correct this historic injustice.”
End Discrimination within USDA: The Act takes steps to once and for all end discrimination within USDA. The Act creates an independent civil rights oversight board to conduct reviews of any appeals of civil rights complaints filed against USDA, to investigate reports of discrimination within USDA, and to provide oversight of Farm Service Agency County Committees. In addition, the Act creates an Equity Commission whose responsibilities include developing recommendations to reform FSA County Committees. The Act also puts reforms in place within the USDA Office of Civil Rights, including placing a moratorium on foreclosures during the pendency of civil rights complaints.
“The Justice for Black Farmers Act is essential legislation that will help level the playing field for Black farmers in Georgia and across our nation who for too long have been denied the true promise of the American Dream. While we work on getting immediate relief to farmers of color to help them move behind this current health,” said Senator Reverend Warnock.
Warnock, whose home state has more than 2,000 Black farmers, separately introduced the Emergency Relief for Farmers of Color Act that would provide $5 billion to Black, Hispanic, Indigenous, and other farmers of color, $4 billion of which would be sent to farmers in direct relief payments to help them pay off outstanding USDA farm loan debts and related taxes. The money will also go to minority farmers suffering from the coronavirus pandemic.
Reverend Warnock is new to the Senate after winning a historic election in Georgia and said he was looking forward to “fighting alongside Sen. Booker” to get The Justice for Black Farmers Act passed.
Protect Remaining Black Farmers from Land Loss: The Act increases the funding authorization for the USDA relending program created in the 2018 Farm Bill to resolve farmland ownership and succession, or “heirs property,” issues. The Act provides funding for pro bono assistance, including legal assistance, succession planning and support for development of farmer cooperatives, to Black farmers. The Act will also create and fund a new bank to provide financing and grants to Black farmer and rancher cooperative financial institutions, and will forgive USDA debt of Black farmers who filed claims in the Pigford litigation.
“For decades, racist policies have robbed Black farmers of the economic opportunity to thrive in our country’s agricultural industry. I’m glad to cosponsor Senator Booker’s bill, which goes a long way toward restoring and protecting property rights of Black farmers, rooting out discriminatory policies, and providing Black farmers with the necessary tools to succeed,” said Senator Warren.
Restore the Land Base Lost by Black Farmers: The Act creates a new Equitable Land Access Service within USDA to acquire farmland and provide land grants of up to 160 acres to existing and aspiring Black farmers. These land grants will allow hundreds of thousands of new Black farmers to return to the land in the next decade. To help ensure their success, these new Black farmers will be provided access to USDA operating loans and mortgages on favorable terms.
“We have to acknowledge that the USDA has a history of institutionalized discrimination against Black farmers and farmers of color. That is the history we cannot look away from,” said Senator Smith. “At a recent Senate Agriculture Committee hearing, I brought up the need to create equitable credit access for diverse farmers —including the Black, Hmong, Latino and Native American farmers in my state of Minnesota — because these are the types things we need to be working to address. This historic legislation is needed so we can help create a future that empowers more farmers to succeed.”
Create a Farm Conservation Corps: The Act creates a USDA program where young adults from socially disadvantaged communities will be provided with the academic, vocational and social skills necessary to pursue careers in farming and ranching. Participants in the program will be paid by USDA and will serve as on-farm apprentices at no cost to socially disadvantaged farmers and ranchers, beginning farmers and ranchers, and organic farmers and ranchers with annual gross farm income of less than $250,000.00. Black participants who gain experience through this program will have priority for land grants.
Empower HBCUs and Advocates for Black farmers: The Act provides substantial resources to 1890s and to nonprofits who serve Black farmers so that they can provide pro bono assistance in identifying land for USDA to purchase and provide as land grants, help new Black farmers get up and running, provide farmer training, and provide other assistance including succession planning and legal assistance to Black farmers. The Act also provides new funding to HBCUs to expand their agriculture research and courses of study.
Assist All Socially Disadvantaged Farmers and Ranchers: While Black farmers have suffered a unique history of discrimination, other socially disadvantaged farmers and ranchers have also been harmed by discrimination. The Act substantially increases funding for USDA technical assistance and for programs such as CSP and REAP, and gives priority for these programs, as well as increased access to capital, to all socially disadvantaged farmers and ranchers.
“The Justice For Black Farmers Act is an incredibly important step towards addressing the harm that Black farmers and land stewards have suffered and continue to endure,” said Dara Cooper, Executive Director of the National Black Food and Justice Alliance. “This is one very important opportunity towards addressing the state of emergency that Black farmers and land stewards continue to face. Considering Black farming communities have been reduced by an alarming 98 percent, we are sounding the alarm that it is long past due to address the unfinished business that farmer activists have been calling for quite some time. Let us all rally behind this important piece of legislation and make sure it passes. It is the least we can do for Black farmers and our failing food system.”
Enact System Reforms to Help All Farmers and Ranchers: In order for existing Black farmers and the new Black farmers created by this bill to have a real chance to succeed and thrive, broader reforms to our broken food system must be enacted. The Justice for Black Farmers Act substantially reforms and strengthens the Packers and Stockyards Act in order to stop abusive practices by big multinational meatpacking companies and protect all family farmers and ranchers.
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