“Direct farm loans to Black farmers fell by more than half under the previous administration and just 00.09% of the $26 billion in direct payments to all farmers [under the Coronavirus Food Assistance Program] went to Black farmers under the previous administration,” USDA Spokesperson Matt Herrick told Yahoo Finance. “We know that socially disadvantaged farmers have struggled to fully succeed due to systemic discrimination and a cycle of debt that began decades ago and was only made worse by COVID-19.”
Out of the $1.9 trillion in the American Rescue Plan, roughly $4 billion will be allocated to farmers of color. Up to 120% of these farmers’ outstanding debts will be paid off, with the extra 20% going toward taxes associated with the outstanding debt. An additional $1.01 billion in the bill will be provided for outreach, training, education, technical assistance, grants and loans, and funding for improving land access.
John Boyd, president of the National Black Farmers Association, called the bill “a huge win for me and for Black farmers.” The relief will come primarily through U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Farm Service Agency direct farm loans, USDA guaranteed loans, and Commodity Credit Corporation farm storage loans, according to the American Farm Bureau.
“I’ve been trying to get debt relief through an act of Congress for about 30 years,” Boyd told Yahoo Finance. “It’s been taken out of a lot of legislative efforts. This isn’t something we just tried to do here recently. We’ve been trying to do it for a very, very long time.”
There are roughly 44,200 Black farmers in America as of 2017, accounting for 1.3% of all farmers in the country.
'We’ve been totally excluded'
The USDA did not provide much financial assistance to Black farmers in recent years.
“We’ve been totally excluded from all USDA subsidy programs like the Trump payouts for the China trade war,” Boyd said. “Farmers of color, especially Black farmers, were virtually absent from those monies. We didn’t get it. PPP, we didn’t get it. We’re not getting farm operating loans, farm equipment loans, or rural development loans, and this has been going on for decades.”
The Trump administration created the market facilitation program (MFP) to offset the effects of the U.S.-China trade war, directing about $24 billion to American farmers. About 99.5% of the initial payments went to white farmers.
In 2020, the USDA established the Coronavirus Food Assistance Program (CFAP) to provide financial aid to farmers impacted by the coronavirus pandemic.
The Environmental Working Group (EWG) found that as of October 2020, nearly 97% of the $9.2 billion in CFAP aid that had been distributed went to white farmers. Furthermore, white farmers received on average eight times more in aid ($3,398) than the average Black farmer ($422).
“It’s the same situation across the country,” William Miller, president of the Ohio Farmers Union and vice chair of the USDA’s Advisory Committee on Minority Farmers, told Yahoo Finance. “There are still a lot of Black or minority farmers who have been able to hold on by a thread to their property and continue the farming. But it’s really a part of systemic discrimination that started in the 1900s and continues today.”
USDA's Herrick acknowledged the history of discrimination related to Black farmers and other farmers of color.
“The American Rescue Plan begins to address this discrimination toward a system that is more just and fair," he stated."USDA is committed to doing everything we can to root out systemic discrimination that disproportionately affects Black, Hispanic, Indigenous and other farmers of color.”
Cary Junior, general manager of Southeast Michigan Producers Association, a rural farmer cooperative for farmers of color, told Yahoo Finance that the Trump administration seems to focus on “the major industrial complex benefit.”
“There was very, very, very little emphasis, or at least support, for the small farms whether you’re Black or white,” Junior said, adding that Black farmers had a particularly difficult time obtaining funding and relevant information.
“They’ve been excluded outside because they aren’t aware of the program that’s going on,” Junior said.
'This was a piece, a beginning, I hope, of a bigger fix'
Not everyone is happy with the provisions targeted towards farmers of color. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) criticized the bill for excluding white farmers.
“In this bill, if you’re a farmer, your loan will be forgiven up to 120% ... if you’re African American, some other minority,” he told Fox News. “But if you’re a white person … no forgiveness. That’s reparations. What does that have to do with COVID?”
Boyd was unhappy with Graham’s remarks and called for an apology.
“He knows my position and he’s never once said from the microphone that we need to fix the discrimination at USDA,” Boyd said. “In his state, he represents thousands of Black farmers that I’m sure have been reaching out to him over the past decades to get some assistance. I find his comments deplorable... The comments he made, I believe they are racist and I would like for him to apologize to me and all of the Black farmers of this country.”
Sen. Graham stood by his comments, however.
“Senator Graham has made his views on this issue crystal clear. Nothing more to add,” Kevin Bishop, the senator’s communications director, told Yahoo Finance in a statement. He also noted Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-MI)’s use of the term “reparations” when discussing the provisions of the bill.
Nevertheless, Boyd emphasized that the bill is not “a handout.”
“This was a piece, a beginning, I hope, of a bigger fix that’s needed for Black and other farmers of color,” Boyd said. “This is a huge victory for Black farmers. $5 billion towards debt relief and outreach initiatives is very, very, important and that’s the way you fix it. You have to put resources out there to address the long-standing problems and discrimination that we faced at USDA.”
Adriana Belmonte is a reporter and editor covering politics and health care policy for Yahoo Finance. You can follow her on Twitter @adrianambells and reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.